A Travellerspoint blog

January 2008

French Immersion

...Tunisian Style

sunny 15 °C

Jan 18-19

(Rob)

We landed in Tunis yesterday, and found ourselves immersed in a French-speaking culture. This was quite a shock, because we've been coasting on English, and a few simple phrases since China (where there was really no English). So how much will we remember of our high-school French? A couple of times, when people have found out we're Canadians, they've asked "why aren't you speakng French all the time?" Alas, we're not from the French-speakng part of Canada!

Tunis, and the area we've seen around it, represents quite a change from Jordan. Especially considering both Jordan and Tunisia are 99% Arab-Muslim. Tunisia, though, is far more Meditterean-looking than it is Middle-Eastern. The French influence is so obvious, not just in language, but in the look of our hotel's neighborhood. There's a grid of streets, centered on a long avenue with a ficus-lined pedestrian mall running down the middle. To our eyes, it's Paris! It's amazing how reinvigorating a change of scenery can be. We've been pretty busy on the Egypt tour and then in Jordan with Jenn's Dad, but our first impression of Tunis has us itching to explore.

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View looking the balcony of our room, Carlton Hotel, Tunis

The Carlton Hotel we were not as thrilled with initially, but we're warming to it. Breakfast helped. Again, the French influence: good pastry, good baguette, good coffee (not Nescafe!).

Today, we decided to head out to Carthage and Sidi Bou Said on the commuter train. Buying and asking for everything in French has worked out so far, but this was more ambitious. It turned out to be a great day, though the amount we walked was also ambitious.

Carthage is a beautiful, wealthy suburb of white-washed villas now, and dotted among these are the ruins. From the ruins of Roman Carthage, high on a hilltop, we could see the Punic ruins (i.e. Carthage) below. Rome had completely destroyed Carthage in 146 B.C., yet chose the same location to build an ambitious new town in during the time of Julius Caesar. The groundskeeper (since we were the only ones there) showed us how they're still discovering human bones from the Roman destruction, and - he claims - you can still smell the smoke from when the city burned. He even showed us part of a child's skull: Alas, poor Yorrick! I knew him!

Anica climbed to the top of her sixth Roman amphitheatre in Carthage, too. From the top, we got a good view of the huge new mosque, built in honour of Ben Ali, the president since 1987. It holds 12,000 people, and has a lovely minaret quite unlike what we'd seen at other mosques.

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Roman bath complex at Carthage, now a suburb of Tunis

A highlight of the Roman ruins at Carthage are the baths. It's a huge complex. Only the basement level remains, but that's enough to show how the largest bath would be bigger than an Olympic-size swimming pool. Even the basement required impressive vaulted ceilings. From these baths, you can look out over the sea and to mountains in the distance.

We hopped back on the TGM train, and got off three stops later at Sidi Bou Said. We'd already walked all over Carthage, with its hills, but Sidi Bou Said is also built on a hillside (cliff, practically), so we were just getting started! It's a beautiful, affluent community, that has strictly maintained its "blue doors and white walls" building code to give it an instantly recognizable look. Anica even noticed the exact door (out of hundreds) that is on the "Rough Guide to Tunisia" cover!

After walking along the main shopping road at the top of the hill, we took stairs down to the marina, then climbed back up again. Anica definitely keeps up the pace on these hikes, I must admit. She doesn't whine any more than we do!
'
For dinner, we had some quintessential Tunisian fare. Jenn and/ I had cous-cous; hers was with merguez (spicy sausage). Anica had "brik," which is a greasy kind of egg and pastry thing. When the waiter brought bread, I asked: "harissa?" and he seemed pleased. Harissa is a spicy red paste that we read is usually not offered to tourists, but that Tunisians spread on everything. We had it on our bread, and it is spicy, but we like spicy food, so yum! Prices for food seem pretty cheap so far in Tunisia, and they were here even in flashy Sidi Bou Said. It's a gorgeous town in a spectacular cliffside-seaside setting, and it was a great way to end our first full day in Tunisia.

Jan 20

(Rob)

After breakfast this morning we set out for the Bardo Museum by Metro Train. The Metro is like a subway system that somebody forgot to put underground. When I first saw it suddenly rocketing around corners in the downtown, I actually looked down to check that it was on tracks! We asked the ticket-seller (in French, of course) which platform was the one for the Bardo. He pointed us across the way, and we thanked him. A couple of minutes later, he came running over. "It's number four, mister," he told us. Since more than one train came by at the same platform, he left his booth and found us just to make sure we didn't get on the wrong one! It's the small kindnesses like that, far beyond what could possibly be expected, that have helped sustain our positive feelings about travelling. Something like that has happened in every country. What a wonderful world.

The Bardo has an incredible collection of Roman mosiacs as its major claim to fame. The museum includes what was once palatial quarters for the "Bey," or nominal ruler of pre-independence Tunisia. We bought a guidebook, and followed it, expecting the English labelling to be hit-and-miss.

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Inside the Bardo Museum

The mosaics, in particular, were truly impressive. It makes you realize how extensively and beautifully the Romans built in North Africa. In the "Virgil Room," part of the Bey's old apartment, there's the oldest-known artistic representation of the poet Virgil, shown in mosiac flanked by the muses of History (Clio, one of my two favourites) and Tragedy. It's almost completely intact, and showcased well in a room with a white, stucco, vaulted ceiling. Except I've never seen stucco like this! It's carved in delicate, filigree-like Islamic patterns.

Other mosiacs were impressive by their sheer size or by the surprising nature of the subject matter (like blood dripping in red tiles from a lion being gutted by a gladiator). A 5th century AD mosiac called the "Julius" depicts all sorts of aspects of his estate and the events of a typical year, a lovely primary source of history.

Aside from mosiacs, there's an extensive collection of artifacts recovered from a ship that wrecked in the first century. There's statues of dancing dwarfs, candelabras, beds, and marble statues.

A couple of school groups were visiting the museum today. One time, while we were sitting on a bench, looking at our guidebook, a group of three girls, perhaps twelve years old, slowly and nervously approached Anica, with big smies on their faces. "Bonjour," they each said. One by one, they kissed her on the cheek, as if it was some kind of tweener Papal audience. "So nice...pretty" they said, and left. ,

After several hours at the museum, we enjoyed a late lunch at a street-side patio cafe. Sunday seems to be the day a lot of stores are closed in Tunis, so we took it easy, too, today.

Jan 21

The part of Tunis are hotel's in, is the "new city," laid out by the colonizing French in a simple grid, dominated by a Champs-Elysses style boulevard. At the end of that street, sitting at an odd angle, is an archway with Arab inscriptions that signals an entrance to "The Medina," the old city. No grid here, just a spiderwebbing of narrow lanes. It's like entering a dense forest. Fanghorn! So we took it in that spirit: we put the map away and just decided to wander the Medina, with its many souks and mosques, for a few hours. As we walked deeper in, I could see the stalls becoming less touristry and more devoted to the traditional trades. There were the goldsmiths, the fez-makers, the bon-bon makers, or even just a street name that was a reminder of the Medina in the past, like "rue des teincturiers." We were content to just photograph doorways. Nobody has to tell you they're famous; they draw the eye intrinsically. Anica loved choosing her favourites to photograph. There was no traffic other than pedestrian traffic. Oh, and the occasional baby-stroller, filled with candy and cigarettes. You shouldn't take candy from a baby, but here you can buy it from a man wheeling it around in a pram.

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"There must be some kinda way outta here.." Deep in the Tunis Medina

After about an hour of wandering, our aimlessness caught up with us and we were hi-jacked by an enthusiastic elderly gentleman who wanted to show us the "real, hidden, old Medina," or words to that effect in French. As he hurriedly pointed out sight after sight, all three of us started murmuring "he's going to ask for money." But it was interesting enough, and I asked him what his profession was (hint, hint) and he said "textiles." After he showed us a couple of mosques, a synagogue, a "hand of Fatima" door-knocker, and many other photo-worthy curiousities, he deftly said "as for the tip, if varies. Some give 15, some 20. It's up to you." I played dumb, citing friendliness, mentioning his job was in textiles, not tourism, and finally emptied my change pocket in order to end the charade: it amounted to less than one dinar. Well, we knew if was coming! Too bad he proved us right, because, unlike the random act of kindness yesterday, he's the kind of man who makes it difficult to trust others.

Back on our own, we bought new shoes for Anica, a process that included extensive conversation, entirely in French. It's not good French on our part, especially the verb tenses, but we're definitely getting by. One of the hardest things is the Tunisian money. It takes a thousand millimes to make a diinar, like an extra place column. I've been getting confused when I hear a price spoken (in French, mind you) like "eleven and eight hundred." Huh? Well, that would be 11.800 or eleven dinars and eight hundred millimes. Seeing it written is better, because you just drop a zero, but most of the prices aren't labelled.

A little bit about lunch: once again great shwarma sandwiches. These had all sorts of diced things, such as radishes, tomatoes and onions, mixed in, and had a complement of french fries spilling out of the bun and across the plate. Much better than the "fries hidden within the sandwich" style we've seen. Anica's a huge shwarma fan now; she wanted it again for dinner!

We also took the Metro today to Belvedere Park, which on the map looks like Tunis' answer the Hyde Park or Central Park. Tunis must be parkially-challenged, however. Belvedere Park is big, but its "lake" has dried up to what would better be described as a puddle, and they're aren't a lot of wide open spaces otherwise. We did come nose-to-nose with some reindeer, in what might have been a outside fence of the zoo. They were quite used to people, pushing their mouths through the chain links, expecting us to feed them.

What made the park special for Anica, though, was a huge banyan tree, great for climbing. Three of its thickest branches drooped way down so that couples could just walk up and sit on them, with a slight bouncing give like giant, natural rocking chairs. On the other side of the tree, its thick wooden vines converged in a tangle that you could climb up inside. Can you tell I enjoyed climbing the tree, too?

Jenn spent the time talking with three young women, who heard us speaking English and wanted some practice. Their first language was Arabic, and second French, but they'd taken English at university. They were very interested in our travel, lifestyle, and options for employment. Jenn changing careers was something they envied. All three would be qualified teachers in a year, but if that didn't suit them, there was little chance of retraining.

Anica said today that her favourite "activity" on the trip has been visiting the churches, mosques, and temples. She said it's just so fascinating to see how people pray, and who they pray to, and how the places are decorated. She likes Islam the best, if she had to choose, because they don't show God, so it doesn't ruin what you imagine. She likes how they fast during Ramadan, to know how poor people feel when they're hungry. She likes the mosques because of the minarets. How do you become a Muslim, Dad? I said it's really easy, but wait until we've seen some of the great cathedrals in Europe!

Jan 22

More Medina today, including an overpriced peek at the Great Mosque (you only get to see the courtyard), and a narrow escape from being "guided." We did manage to find the Museum of Popular Tradition, housed in an old palace, at the far side of the Medina. Anica, in particular, likes seeing these kind of museums, with lots of mannequins in costumes, and decorated period rooms. This one depicted life in the Tunis Medina at the end of the 19th century.

We've enjoyed Tunis, with its wide sidealks and street cafe culture in the New Town, and its labyrinthine souks in the Old Town. We've even browsed in all the French bookstores, bibliophiles that we are, and have been tempted to get something to try reading in French. The price for books, however, is too high here. We'll be on our way by train at noon tomorrow; our ticket's already been (painstakingly) purchased using our broken French.

Jan 19

(Anica)

Today we went to Carthage. MORE ROMAN RUINS!! But it was pretty, nice, big, and tireing. We saw and climbed my sixth amphitheatre! I'm very proud. And we saw a section of baths bigger than a Olympic pool! We also saw homes! Went to Cidy Bo Said (a place/city/town with white buildings and blue doors), had dinner. rode home on a train. G.N.
P.S. We saw the same door on the front of our guide (proud)

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The quintessential blue-and-white doorway style of Sidi Bou Said

Jan 20

(Anica)

"Bardo's Mosiacs or Mosques?"

Today again we had a delicous, yummy breakfst. Today we also rode the Tunis metro down to Bardo Museum. When we got to Bardo, we saw many mosaics. We saw one with people doing ploughing, sowing, brinig home the livestock, olive picking and hunting. We also saw one with the gods of the week: Luna (Monday), Mar (Tuesday), Mercury (Wednesday), Jupiter (Thursday), Venus (Friday), Sol (Saturday) and Satrun (Saturday). We also saw sirens in a mosiac. Neat. Had another exicting (but busy) ride. Had dinner. G.N.

Jan 21

(Anica)

"The Madina or Mahdia Day?!"

Today we walked threw the Madina of Tunis. The gate was very pretty. This guy also kept on finding us (which wa very annoying) and saying "go to the Great Mosque." "We-are-just-looking around. O.K!?" Diden't stop then! The half bazzarish/townish-like Medina was so busy! One time this guy took us all over the plae (without permisson from Mom) and asked for 16 Canadin doller tip?! Dad ave him less than a doller! Good, old, smart Dad! We also stormed off! Yay! Thenwe had a very delicius lunch of swamrha sandwhiches and fries. We als went to Belvedere park and climbed on a big Banyon tree! Fun. Went home for a very long time, talking about the day, playing, reading, sleeping, and lots more! Such as listening to a 1000 birds outside and taking a video.

Jan 22

(Anica)

"Back in the Medina!"

Today we went back through the pretty gate to the Madina. We also went to a pretty neat, old and not ruined Mousqe. We also went to a mueseam with a boys, girls, herbs and kids sectoins with tools, jewelarry and clothes. It was so neat! They also had school diorama (with a techer with a whip). Went home, rested, had dinner. G.N.

Posted by jennrob 08:35 Archived in Tunisia Comments (7)

Winterlude in Aqaba

...and another goodbye

sunny 12 °C

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Empty beach and boardwalk in Aqaba, Jordan.

Jan 14

(Anica)

"Brrr! Snorkeling anybody? Not!"

Today we drove to Aqaba. When we got there we tried the Aquamarine Hotel, Movenpick, Aqaba Gulf Hotel, befre finally getting a hotel called Jordan Sueties Hotel. Looked around, went home, had dinner. G.N.!

Jan 15

(Anica)

Today we walked down to a small boardwlk at the edge of the Red Sea. Very nice, by the second biggest flag pole in Jordan. Very many locals. Had delicous shwarma and Lays for luch. Walked down to Marinera park. Went home, had dinner. G.N.

Jan 16

(Anica)

Today we went to Lots Cave. It was a very long drive (long and boring up the Dead Sea Highway. We got a guide called Robin. Nice. Saw Lots ave and Church, had lunch in the dessert (noodle cups) and played King and Queen with Poppa. Went back, had dinner at Rovers Return English pub, said goodbe to Poppa. G.N.!

Jan 14-17

(Rob)

Things have calmed down a bit since we got to Aqaba. Not totally by design. Partially it's because the cold snap has continued, and, even at this low altitude, there's no chance we're going to go snorkelling. It may get up to about 14 degrees in the day, but there's a stiff wind blowing.

On the plus side, Aqaba is a very pleasant city for walking. Wide sidewalks, lots of cafes and restaurants, huge traffic circles with palm trees lit by floodlight at night, and a boardwalk along the Gulf of Aqaba. We've enjoyed a couple of long walks, and a couple of short drives down the south coast - right to the Saudi border, actually. Although some of beachfront is by paid admission only, the city also has a brand-new free complex with a playground (a great find for Anica) so we could walk along the beach, too. The water is temptingly bright blue, but feels almost as cold as the air.

The choices for dining have been more diverse than elsewhere in Jordan. James told us that, eighteen years ago, when he first came to Aqaba, there was a good Chinese restaurant. We got craving Chinese food, sought the place out, and actually found it, despite the lack of street signs, thanks to Jenn, who used nothing more than a flagpole as a landmark ad a miniature Lonely Planet map of the neighborhood. We parked, went up the steps, only to see a sign that read "Closed for renovations starting Jan 14." It was Jan 14th. After 18 years, he missed it by one day! Later that night, when we saw another Chinese restaurant, we fulfilled our craving. More evidence that Chinese food is usually better outside of China!

We've also had great shwarma, good chicken tikka, fish and chips at a somewhat authentic English pub and another one of our own picnics. This one was in what might have been a quarry or reservoir access road, but I prefer to call it our "oasis." We had spent the morning of Jan 16th driving up the "Dead Sea" highway, which is a strange enough thing to do that we had to stop about five times for checkpoints. This highway runs straight and flat, parallel to Israel, through a valley leading up to the Dead Sea. We didn't expect to find much to do, but figured we'd go as far as "Lot's Cave," then have our lunch.

"Lot's Cave" is a Bibilical site, rediscovered in 1986, that they don't want anyone to find yet because the museum & renovations aren't done. At least, that's our take on the fact there was only one sign in 200 km pointing the way. We made that turn off the highway, then asked a few people who pointed us this way and that through the town. Finally, we arrived, and another sign said "Closed for renovations except by escort." There were no other cars there, but, sure enough, there was one lonely guy in a little hut, and he hopped up, and said "Welcome! Afwan! Sure, sure, I show you."

Up we went, 50 vertical metres of cliffside. We shared our chocolate bars with "Robin," our "escort." I resisted saying "to the Lot Cave, Robin."

So what did we see? There are the ruins of a Byzantine Church, built just outside the cave in the 5th century, and abandoned in the 8th century. They had built there because they had determined that this was the cave that Lot's family hid in when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. After some drugs and incest (really; it's in the Bible) their family continued without Lot's wife (who had become a pillar of the community). We dutifully peered into the cave, admired the view from the hilllside, chatted with Robin a little more, and then sped back down the Dead Sea Highway.

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Somewhere on a desert highway...caution...camel crossing

Jenn's Dad is driving back to his work in Riyadh, so our time here ended with another tearful goodbye. The three of us travel by bus back to Amman, to catch our flight after a night there.

Posted by jennrob 21:08 Archived in Jordan Comments (4)

Roll On, Jordan

South From Amman on the King's Highway

semi-overcast 6 °C

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That magical first glimpse of Petra's "Treasury" building

Jan 8

We checked out of our Amman hotel today. We were practically the only guests. It was like the quieter parts of "The Shining."

The drive today was gorgeous, despite the mainly cloudy weather. At first, we saw more of those hardscrabble Jordan hills: not rock-covered, nor-tree covered, they are equal parts small rocks and small trees, like they're battling for supremacy. That stretches as far as you can see, and wherever it's just rocks, that's been plowed for farming. Susistence agriculture, I imagine.

Soon, we'd driven down into the Jordan Valley (yup, a couple more checkpoints) and saw the site where John baptized Jesus. You have to use your imagination for this one; it's pretty much just a spot in the Jordan River, but I did reach down and stick my hand in. It's just cool being in the Holy Land (we also saw the spot where Elijah ascended to heaven, and we looked across the river to Jericho), where every place name is instantly recognizable from the Bible.

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It doesn't look like much, but all the Christian denominations agree this is where John baptized Jesus

After that, we watched as the outside temperature gauge rose to 18 degrees celsius. We'd driven to the lowest place on Earth: the Dead Sea. And, it was warm enough for a swim! Not really, but how could we miss this chance? Luckily, the water was warmer than the air. We stayed in for quite a while, enjoying the famous buoyant effect. We even had a pamphlet to read for the obligatory photo-op.

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You don't have to be dead to float like this in the Dead Sea

Not quite being able to shower off the salt properly, we nonetheless rolled on, to our stop for the night: Madaba. But first we drove up from 400 metres below sea level and had some more great views. We even passed by Mount Nebo, where Moses was shown the Promised Land (then died, but he was 120 and didn't have a Ford Explorer).

Arriving in Madaba, we saw the incredible "Madaba Mosiac" on the floor of the St. George's Greek Orthodox Church there. It's a tile mosaic map showing all of the Biblical lands. It was made in the 6th century, and about a third of the two million pieces survives. It showed all sorts of places we've just been, like the Dead Sea, with boats in it, fish in the Jordan River, and the Nile Delta. Some places are enlarged and more detailed, like Jerusalem, where the tiling shows the walls of the city and even individualized buildings. All the place names are in Greek, so it's a good thing we had our guidebook. I've never seen anything else like it, considering it's 1500 years old. Madaba since then has maintained a tradition of mosaic-making, so the rest of the church is pretty amazing too.

It's a small town, so we found a recommended hotel pretty easily. But it is seriously off-season (it may have been 18 degrees by the Dead Sea, but it was around 6 degrees in Madaba at night), and the hotel's restaurant showed no signs of life. Driving back through town, we walked the main street, and still found nothing. But we chanced one more block and entered a courtyard restaurant complex called "Haret Jdoudna". Still deserted. We were just about to leave when a waiter beckoned us inside. To our delight, we found a wedge-shaped room, full of diners, warmed by a crackling fire. The food was fantastic too, perhaps the best meal we've had in the Middle East so far.

Jan 9

The King's Highway in Jordan, 2008, is newly-paved. But it's seen a lot of traffic long before there were cars: Moses led his people along this route, traders came to and from Petra at its Nabatean peak, pilgrims and Crusaders of the Christian variety, and pilgrims to Mecca, too, have longed followed a similar passage. Today it was our turn.

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A King's Highway switchback

Unfortunately, the twists, turns, switchbacks and elevation change didn't help Anica avoid feeling carsick. So we propped her up on a pillow in the front-seat and she seemed much better after that! Illegal in Canada, practical here.

We reached the city of Karak before noon, and promptly checked into a hotel right beside the Karak Castle. The Karak Rest House. James had stayed here on his last trip to Jordan. Hello Mister James! We now have a panoramic view of the deep Wadi Karak (a wadi is a dry river valley). The manager said he'd turn the heat on later for us.

After a picnic in Jenn's Dad's room, we went over to the castle. It was built in the 12th century by Crusaders, and laid siege to by Saladin in 1183. Parts of the castle, built after the Crusaders lost this area, are Mamluk ruins, anywhere from the 1300s to 1500s. The Mamluks also controlled Egypt during some of that period.

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Heading into Karak, with the castle looming over the town

Again, sometimes coming in the off-season just rocks. We had this castle, which is one of the top sites in Jordan, practically to ourselves. There was so much you could freely climb and explore. The tunnels underneath the castle were particularly atmospheric: one gallery was a row of stores, and another was a row of prison cells. Lit only by air shafts of light, and the occasional modern electric footlight, we walked each tunnel alone. Various stone windows, cut for arrow use, looked out over the valleys on three sides of the castle (it's at the point of the wedge-shaped hill where the town of Karak is built). After hours of climbing every staircase and ramp, we finally declared ourselves done and back across the drawbridge to our hotel. We are their only guests tonight.

Jan 10-12

"To Petra"

We drove from Karak to Wadi Musa (the modern town by the ancient city of Petra) in a little rain and a lot of fog. Early in the drive the fog had lifted enough for us to enjoy some of the incredible wadi views from this stretch of the King's Highway.

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Fog rolling in, as we make our way past the little hillside towns of the King's Highway

Rain was threatening to become a factor again when we reached the desolate Shobak Castle. Other than nearly colliding with a family car coming down from the castle, there was nobody else there. A couple of curator/tour guides were at the entrance, but it's free anyway. Shobak is another Crusader-built castle like Karak. We were really just there to stretch our legs, but James and I couldn't resist the long staircase down into the belly of the castle. Anica and Jenn came part way, and then we continued, with flashlights, down uneven steps. I counted 94 steps, before we doused the flashlights and looked ahead. No light at the end of the tunnel. We went back up.

The fog got worse as we neared Petra. At least, we assumed we were getting closer as we couldn't see the road signs. The fog was so bad we could only see about two dotted lines ahead down the centre of the road.

Finally, though, we made our way through a ghostly Wadi Musa, and successfully bargained for our desired price in hotel room. This place is well-heated!

In the morning, I soon came to the conclusion that Petra is my favourite place of sightseeing (so far!) in the world. After a few hours of trekking and exploring, I was already thinking: this tops them all.

On our first day we (without Jenn, who was experiencing the flu-like feeling I'd had a few days ago) started down "The Siq" in the morning. It's the long, twisty, narrow canyon that emerges at "The Treasury," the most-photographed place at Petra. Every time we turned a corner, we were thinking: "will this be it?" It was like creeping downstairs on Christmas morning to see what Santa brought.

Along the way, though, I started to understand just how many tombs there are. From the moment you enter the front gates, you see holes cut into the rock, and beautiful, classical structures carved out of it. There are hundreds.

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Also, all along The Siq, which is over a kilometre long, is an ancient, waist-high water-trough, which just serves to underscore the ingenuity of the Nabataeans, who built up Petra, starting from the 3rd century BCE. As you go, the rock gets more and more rose-pink.

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Anica in front of "The Treasury"

After spending some time admiring The Treasury, and climbing into a few cave-tombs, we set out for "The High Place of Sacrifice." It's well-named. There's an ancient staircase that took us up, and down a little, and then up, up (picture an Arizona-like landscape) to a plateau higher than anything else. We shared our snack food with some Arab men at the top. One of them looked around the vast landscape and proclaimed that "it's a miracle, this place." Then they danced, in a joyful chorus line!

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One of the views from the "High Place of Sacrifice, Petra

From this "high place," we could see back to the town of Wadi Musa, and forward to areas of Petra we hadn't yet seen. There were altars for animal sacrifice, and dugouts for washing up (washing off the blood?). Amazing spot, and I was really proud of Anica for her effort at getting up there. It was a little tortoise-and-hare, but unlike the hare, she finished the race, too, along with us tortoises.

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James on the edge!

We decided not to go back the same way, but find the path forward, down the other side of the High Place. It was an hour hike from there to the ancient city of Petra's centre. The Roman influence was more noticeable there, with the colonnaded street, and the free-standing temple (the Nabataeans built everything by carving into the rock, almost nothing is free-standing). The Romans, however, didn't do much with Petra after taking it over.

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The Great Temple, Petra

It became a lost city, lost to all except the Bedouins, who kept it secret. In the 5th century, there were a few Byzantine Christians who made churches out of the old tombs, and we saw these. There's no evidence, as far as I could see, of how the Crusaders made use of Petra. It wasn't until the 19th century that Europeans rediscovered Petra, as the forgotten, rose-red city. Artist David Roberts came here around 1840 and made his wonderful painting, realistic, but romanticized, too. They still sell his books and portfolios everywhere here, and I bought a collection of prints.

On our way out, we stopped for a closer look at the pink/red amphitheatre. This was #5 in Anica's collection of amphitheatres seen, although she didn't get to climb this one. As the day went on, we had seen increasingly colorful rock; much of it striped, with a distinctive yellow band, also blue, white, and all shades of red and brown. The yellow crumbles quickly into sand. Anica bought one of those illustrations in a sand-bottle, and had the guy drop her name into it in black lettering.

The second day, with Jenn (who was feeling better enough to say I can't miss this), we were even more ambitious. We had to walk in the same way; there's no other path from the front entrance. Then, we went up some steps to the Royal Tombs and had a little picnic.

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The Royal Tombs, Petra

(In fact, we'd been stocking up on groceries, and have made our own breakfast in Jenn's Dad's room each morning. He has a little gas element, and can boil water, and has a frying pan for eggs. We've saved a lot, and had some memorable meals, by using James' camping stuff. Don't tell the hotel management!).

The big trek of the day was to a spot known as "The Monastery." It's probably 500 steps up, plus some flat stretches of walking.

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Part of the ancient staircase up to "The Monastery, Petra

Once you pass "The Monastery" building itself, which has "two stories" that are more like ten (I could barely climb up in the big door to the chamber), there's a few more steps (and I paused in the exact place that David Roberts painted The Monastery) that take you to a scenic lookout.

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The Jordanian flag flies as you stand, cliffside and look out for miles, maybe even as far as Israel. It's an incredibly rewarding view for the effort, though vertigo-producing.

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You should paint this! The Monastery, Petra

It took 90 minutes to walk back, with any real stopping, to our hotel. By the time we made it, we were certainly exhausted, but felt we'd really seen and done a lot of Petra. We just had the energy to get take-out shawarma (for the second night in a row from Al-Arabi restaurant, but it's so good from this place!), and eat it back in our hotel room.

We've been fortunate enough to have seen the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat, the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramids already on "our big world trip." I've enjoyed them all, these wold wonders, but none more than Petra.

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To your tombs, everyone!

Jan 13-14

(Rob)

Wadi Rum is the third of three "must-see" experiences in Jordan (also Petra, and a swim in the Dead Sea). The operative word here is "must." When we got in the car this morning, the outside temperature read -6. The plan was to go camping. Hmmmm. Still, "must see." Wadi Rum is beautiful. It's a huge open-ended valley and dry-river bed, with many scenic canyons to explore. We hired a guide, encouraged by seeing the daytime temperature climb above 10 degrees (Hmmmm vs. "must-see" still duking it out at this point).

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A "typical" Wadi Rum view!

When we left the pavement for the off-roading part of the drive, we were pretty much committed to camping overnight. We wouldn't be arriving at our designated Bedouin campsite until nearly dusk. It was time to enjoy the Wadi, and trust that our extra sleeping bags would do the trick. There were others camping, right? No?! Hmmmm....

Our Bedouin guide led James through various sandy trails to some of the highlight spots in the Wadi where we could get out of the vehicle and explore. First, we climbed as far as we could into a narrow crack of a canyon.

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How far can you climb into the canyon?

Then, we stopped at the foot of an enormous sand dune, and we climbed to the top, then ran down. James tried rolling down, but that just hurt. Anica was the only one of us to climb up a second time and run down again, screaming as loud as she could the whole way.

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Heading up the sand dune

At the base of another cliff, a couple of kilometres later, we stopped to examine some late Bronze Age drawings made on the rock. Lunch was a cookout/picnic in yet another towering, picturesque canyon. Anica played some more in the world's biggest sandbox, as James got a fire going. After lunch, we came to a natural stone arch that you could climb up to and across. It was about 40 feet up, but sure seemed higher from the top!

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Our guide got us to each of these landmarks by sitting in the backseat, and calling out to James as he came to forks in the sand tracks. "Yashar!" (left) "Alatoole!" (straight) "Yameen!" (right). I have no idea how these words are spelled, but that's how I heard them...

Before sunset, we made it to camp. There are about 20 such sites in Wadi Rum, all owned by the heads of various Bedouin families. They all know each other, but it's competitive, because they're from about five different tribes. Ours was sheltered nicely from the wind.

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Our Wadi Rum camp

In all directions, if you just walked up the rocks, there were increible views. There were about 40 beds set up in the long, striped tents. The sleeping arrangement reminded me of a homeless shelter, or perhaps army barracks. In our camp, the arrival of sunset confirmed that we were the only campers that night. Our guide was joined by a friend, who arrived by pick-up truck, to help with the cooking. They cook the food by heating it in the ground, covered over. We didn't see this process, beause we were climbing rocks, and playing soccer (before dark), then warming ourselves by the fire in the round tent after dark.

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Sunset at camp

Our hosts served chicken, rice, pita, and a vegetable dish, along with chay (tea). They had lutes that they strummed on, and I had a try, but it was very different from the guitar. So, there we were, part of the timeless Bedouin tableau of sitting by your fire, enjoying your lute music, and watching videos on your cell phones. (?) Yes, these are 21st century Bedouin. Dressed completely traditionally, in their early twenties, they love their cell phones. They showed us how, if you walk to the edge of the tent, and hold your phone up high, sometimes you can get a signal. I thought it was hilarious, and when James tried to use his bluetooth to transfer a Britney Spears video, I thought we were contributing to the decline of civilization, but...what's authentic, really? If you were re-creating a Bedouin camp in a North American theme-park, the customers would be upset to see the "actors" on their cellphones. But to these young men, it's part of the life.

As for getting through the night, we weren't that cold. Jenn was probably colder before she went to bed, and in general was feeling the cold more than any of us because she wasn't 100% healthy. I don't have the space here, though, to list all the layers of clothing and blanketing we used. Thank goodness we had our own sleeping bags, because with what they provided, we wouldn't have been warm enough. I'm sure it was below zero, because, after breakfast, when we drove away, it was still only two degrees on the temperature display. But we lived to tell the tale!

Jan 8

(Anica)

"Dead Sea Day"

Today we went to the Dead Sea and floted. It was very fun. First we went to Jesus Baptism Sight. It was neat, cool, and amazing. Then we went to the Dead Sea and floted. It was very salty, rocky, and fun! Then we went to a church with a mosiac floor map. It was colourfull, bright and fun. Then we had dinner at a place with a fireplace. It was very neat and warm after the 8oC whether! G.N.

Jan 9

(Anica)

"Karak's King Poppa, King Dad, King Queen and Princess Anica at the Castle"

Today we went down to Karak. When we arrived we cheked into a hotel called Karak Rest-House. Right by the Al Karak Castle. And great view. Then we very yummy lunch of Chili, feta chesse, fruit juice and snickers. Then we walked out to the castle. 20 second walk! And saw, and climbed on very steep, ruined, rocky castle. We went into 10 dark tunnels! Then we went back home, had dinner, G.N. :)

Jan 10-12

(Anica)

"Petra: The Pink City"

Today we drove to Petra. The drive to Petra was messed up in cloud like fog. When we got to Petra we got a 3-star hotel called Slk Road Hotel. Nice, warm, clean and good room. We went to a ver yummy and delicious and clean pizza place. Went home, had dinner. G.N.

Jan 11

(Anica)

Today we went to the ruined, pin, high, twisty and big Petra. Mum did not come (sick). We went up a (approxamntly) 900 step high sacrifice place. We took lots of pictures t the pink, tall and nice and pretty Treasery.

Jan 12

(Anica)

Petra the 2nd time. Today Mum came to Petra. We did almost the same thing but with a 1000 step climb to the Monnastry. Went home, had dinner. G.N.

Posted by jennrob 07:02 Archived in Jordan Comments (5)

Amman For All Seasons

Jordan with James

semi-overcast 8 °C

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Anica at the Amman amphitheatre, the first of five we saw in Jordan.
(to our regular blog readers: Anica's purse was turned in, camera and all, before we left Luxor on Jan 31. Sorry we didn't include that in either of our diaries!)

Jan 4

Out of Egypt for just an hour, we were quickly plunged into the next leg of our trip: two weeks in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Securing visas on arrival was easy, and the immigration officer only looked at one of our passports. But with countless changes to our flight times, we weren't sure if James (Jenn's Dad) would be waiting for us in arrivals.

When we stepped out, he was nowhere in sight. But a young Arab man shyly asked us: "Is James your father?" This sounded like the password, so Jenn cleverly said "Yes." "He's just in the bathroom," Bashar (we soon were introduced) explained.

Jenn's Dad had driven 1600 kilometres across the desert in his Ford Explorer to meet us. He'd booked a hotel, met up with his co-worker's family in Amman, and brought us many of the necessities we'd be needing for colder weather. We didn't expect rain in Jordan, but we knew it would be colder, especially at night. James brought each of us a winter coat, hat, mittens, and scarf. Finally having a scarf, I got to practice my Bedouin look by draping and looping it over my shoulders in a dozen different ways! Somehow, we hope to experience some weather from each of the seasons: warm enough in the south to swim in the Dead Sea and snorkel in Aqaba. Today was as much like winter as we've felt since we left. Heck, since probably March's weather back in Canada.

It's exhilarating, though, to be right in the thick of something totally different from our tour of Egypt. This travel variety, sometimes without any rest between stops, and sometimes with a good long quiet stretch is what's keeping all three of us from feeling burnt-out.

After a brief stop at the hotel, which is a good fit (a budget two-bedroom suite, though unwelcoming, dimly-lit, and sporadically heated), we went right to the home of Hassem. Unfortunately, James' colleague had to go back to Riyadh yesterday, so once again it fell to the next generation to entertain us. They were certainly up to it! Welcomed into their apartment in Amman, Anica soon found her hair being braided by one Reema, one of the adult daughters. Rusha, another adult daughter, acted as hostess, and I was instructed to wobble my coffee cup back and forth when I'd had enough (Jordanian coffee is usually made with cardamon, and served in very small cups). We also had tea, all of us sitting in the "men's" half of the their living/dining area. The two sons (both in high-school) sat with us as well. I noticed around the corner that the "women's" area had the TV! But it's not strictly divided like a Saudi Arabian house would be.

Then we went out to dinner, which meant Rusha and Reema had put their head scarves on. We went to a traditional Arab restaurant, where the circular tables have a sunken, brass-plated area for the platters to be put. With Rusha's help, James and I decided to order "Manshef," a common traditional dish in Jordan. It's stuffed lamb, served over a bed of rice and tomatoes, with a yogurt-like sauce to pour over it.

The restaurant was extremely busy and smoky. Most of it was "hubble bubble" pipe-smokers, but generally in Jordan so far, it's the country with the most amount of public smoking. Even Rusha, who never smokes cigarettes, loves to have a hubbley-bubbley.

Jan 5

We didn't stay up late enough, nor sleep in late enough, to qualify as "being on a Jordanian schedule." Nevertheless, Rusha and Reema, along with their youngest aunt, piled into the back seat of the Ford Explorer for a full day of showing the four of us around Amman.

We started in the area known as Philadelphia, after the Ptolemy Philadelphius whom under most of it was built. Most striking was the Amphitheatre of 6,000 seats right in the middle of Amman. Because of the hilly streets, you get a great skyline view up to the Citadel on top of a plateau. It's probably the most photographed view in Amman. Anica liked it because we could climb all the way to the top of the steep stairs. And you could pose like a rock star on the "stage!"

I liked our greeting there, because we were greeted by a unique set of chai-wallahs (in India, or whatever they call tea-sellers here). These men roved about, with an apron and armour of teapots. In the pockets of the apron are sprigs of fresh mint. I don't usually have mint tea, but this was warm and wonderful. It was like a candy salad floating in the tea!

We took a quick look through two museums (keep tally, readers, because we're going to hit a grand total of five today) by the Amphitheatre, that had some of the "popular traditions" of dress, jewelry, etc. represented, we got in the car and drove up to the Citadel. By now the rain had picked up, joining forces with the temperature of not much more than zero.

The Citadel, despite the hardships, turned out to be amazing. There's a ruined temple of Hercules that was built 161- 80 BCE, in the reign of Marcus Aurelius. From there, you can stand at a wonderful look-out point over most of old Amman. What caught my eye from there was the flagpole: it's the world's tallest freestanding flagpole, with a suitably huge Jordanian flag (although Rusha said today's flag was "the little one".).

Then we ducked into an unassuming museum building, glad for the shelter. It turned out to house unbelievable antiquities, like Dead Sea scrolls, the oldest known human-made statues (they're from at least 6,500 BCE). There are trepanned skulls from the city of Jericho, too, which of course caught Anica's fancy for gruesomeness.

Lunch was at another busy local restaurant, and then we had "knafa" at a street-corner stall. Most ate it standing up, and so did we. It was a delicious dessert. And, we probably never would have tried it if we weren't with our Jordanian hosts.

Off to the Children's Museum next! A beautiful, brand-new facility like a "science/discovery centre," which many cities have, but this one is really good. It brought out the kid in all of us, particularly the "blue-screen" studio where you pretend to give a weather forecast.

Next door is the Automotive Museum (and that makes five, right?). It's the collection of cars and motorcycles of the Jordanian Royal family over four generations. Wow! There's some rare cars there, like an electric car made in Detroit in 1907, a 1955 Aston-Martin (which Jenn and I both declared our personal favourite), Rolls-Royces, Cadillac convertible state cars, and some of the rally cars the King used. One of the notes said that "King Hussein won the first-ever rally held in Jordan." Well, duh! Who'd be brave enough to finish ahead of the king?

Jan 6

Jerash today, a huge site of Roman ruins. We made a scenic drive north from Amman, seeing more of the rolling countryside of Jordan. In the centre of modern Jerash is the Roman town. Being off-season, there were probably only a couple of dozen people in a space that's more than a kilometre in length, and half a kilometre across. We saw a re-creation show (think "Roman Times," a variation on Medieval Times) in the part of the Hippodrome left standing. They showed Legionnaire formations, chariot races, and gladiator fights. We gave the thumbs up for mercy at first, but then we turned bloodthirsty.

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Good form! "Roman Legionnaires" at the Jerash hippodrome show

The Forum is oval-shaped, and quite intact. It's a huge, paved area, and out of it leads for me what was the main attraction: the "cardo maximus," or main road. It's almost a kilometre long, and well-colonnaded. We walked along cobblestones that had ruts in them from Roman chariot wheels. We peered into the original Roman manholes. It's an impressive thoroughfare to this day, and it was easy to imagine how it looked in antiquity.

Once we got off the main road, there were many other areas to explore. We picked up bits of terracotta or carved stone (putting it right back where we got it, of course) because it was everywhere beneath our feet. With Anica, I played the game of "what's not from Roman times?"

Jerash also has a huge Temple of Artemis, which alone would be enough reason to visit, and a well-preserved Amphitheatre (where, bizarrely, Arab-costumed bagpipers demonstrated the acoustics). At the entrance to the site, we paused for a photo-op under Hadrian's Gate, so named because it was built for the Emperor Hadrian's stay in Jerash in 130 AD.

It's hard to imagine Roman ruins being any more extensive or evocative than what we saw today!

Jan 7

Well, despite how I concluded yesterday's entry, we were off to see the ruins of another Roman town, Umm Qays. I guess we're not "ruined" yet, because all four of us explored with gusto at this very different-looking site.

Partially, the appeal was the view. From the highest point of Umm Qays, which is at the extreme northern tip of Jordan, you look out over to the Sea of Gailee, and across a valley to the Golan Heights. In the distance are the mountains of Lebanon. It's a breathtaking view, but the frisson that the names produce heightens the enjoyment immensely.

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From Umm Qays, Jordan, looking north-west to Syria, Israel & the Sea of Gailee

For Biblical scholars, and pilgrims through the centuries, Umm Qays is better-known as Gedara, where Jesus performed the miracle of casting demons into pigs. I didn't notice any demon-swine descendants, though.

What we did see was the characteristic black basalt rock that the Romans built with. The Ottomans re-used a lot of it, as there's an 19th-century Ottoman village, already in ruins, where the same black basalt figures in every building. It gives the amphitheatre, the road, and many of the buildings quite a different appearance from Jerash yesterday. Anica and I took turns in the "stalls," or stores: "Hello olives! Yes?" I called out from the ancient stone cubicles.

We explored the baths, climbed over what's left of the fountains, and wandered way out into the fields. A highlight is a 5th-century Byzantine basilica, itself a ruin, built over a Roman crypt. You can see the crypt through the foundation of the church. It's a long way down, and very dark in the vaults!

As if further demonstration of the decline of Western civilization was needed, we had lunch by "tail-gating" out of the back of the Ford Explorer. It was actually very yummy, and somewhat comfortable (around 14 Celsius instead of yesterday's 3 degrees). There were more people playing soccer (sorry, football) in the parking lot than there were at the historical site, by the way.

We decided to take an alternate route back to Amman, for the scenery. Ha! First of all it got dark, secondly, that route involved a lot more check-points. Like a checkpoint every 200 mere. Some were in clear view of the last checkpoint, where the soldier could have seen us hand our passports over for checking. Although our Canadian passports were well-received, the Saudi license plate caused a little confusion. James knew the Arabic for "I work in Saudi Arabia," however. Perhaps some dangerous man climbed out of the Jordan Valley in between checkpoints, though! In all, we went through 10 checkpoints, and had our passports checked each time. Eight of those came in the first five kilometres of the drive back to Amman.

Jan 5

"A Roman Show and Museum"

(Anica)

Today we went to a Roman Thetare (or in the Roman times, known as a Roman Ampithetre). It was very nice, pretty, old and in ruins. After that we went and had a yummy lunch at the (recommended) Jerusalem Restaurant, of pita, lamb and french fries. Then we went to the Childrens museum and saw this pulley thing (with a seat where when you pulled on the rope and you would go up), this rowing machine with a skeleton that would move when you move, and there's to much more to say! We went to the Royal Autmobil mueseum, went home, had dinner. G.N. (Good Night) :)

Jan 6

"Jerash Day"

(Anica)

Today we went on a very long and exciting drive to Jerash. A Roman (ruined) city. Firt we saw a chariot show at this place called the Hippodrome. Very exicting! Then we saw some very old road, ruins, cathedrels, churchs, arcs, gates, thetres, plazas, homes and baths. Then we went on another exciting drive back, had dinner. G.N.

Jan 7

"Um Qays Day!"

(Anica)

Today we went to Um Qays, same thing as Jerash. We saw the old and ruined baths, markets, churh, colonaded courtyard, nymphaeum, and others. When me and Mom were playing I pushed her and she pushed me, I went whhheeew! BONK! She pushed me over! And I hurt my arm and leg! And on the way back there were at least 11 checkpoints all 150 metres away from each other! Went home, had dinner. G.N.

Lessons Learned - Rob

At just about the halfway point in a year of travelling, these thoughts have been taking shape in my mind. Lessons learned, as much about myself as about about the world. Lessons being learned, more accurately. We'll see how I feel after the second half of our travels wraps up.

1. Home really is where the heart is.

I haven't missed home, or really experienced homsickness to the degree that I know is possible. And we've been gone for more than five months now. So why not? Simple: Jenn and Anica are with me. We're together, and that makes every hotel room a home.

2. Don't take things for granted.

When you travel in the developing world, you see many, many people who have so very little. It makes you appreciate what you do have; it means you no longer take these things for granted. These sentiments are cliched, but I agree with them completely, except that "not taking things for granted" should not rule out complaining loudly at home when our rights and services are threatened. Canadians have an enormous tax burden, and, after travelling more widely, I see that it's worth it: the welfare of our citizens is safeguarded, our infrastructure is excellent, and we suffer a minimum of government corruption. If we start accepting less, we will get less, and only the extremely wealthy will ever enjoy a standard of living that Canadians once, to re-coin the phrase, took for granted.

3. They are "must-sees" for a reason.

There are many people, including a whole breed of travel writers, who will blithely advise you to skip certain world-famous sites, because they've become over-run with tourists. That's like Yogi Berra saying "nobody goes there any more; it's too busy." There's a reason people flock to these sites. This year, we've seen the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat, the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramids. All of these places lived up to their reputations. They are still must-sees. You will always discover your own favourites lesser-known places. The people who tell you not to bother, Jenn likes to point out, have already been there. You deserve to see these places for yourself. So bring on the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

4. I am a teacher.

Despite not being overly homesick, I have thought a lot about teaching. I have even had many dreams about teaching, following the school calendar in my subconscious (back to school in September, report cards in November, holidays in December...). I don't miss the work, and I'm happy to do something different for a year, but this certainly confirms that "teacher" is a big part of how I define myself.

5. People are good.

When you're a tourist, 90% of the people you meet are trying to sell you something. That doesn't change just because you're travelling for longer than the typical two weeks. It just becomes more obvious. 9% of the people you encounter, however, are just friendly people, who welcome you to their city or country, who give you directions when you're lost, who tousle your daughter's hair just because they love kids, or who otherwise serve to reaffirm your faith in the goodness of human nature all around the world. It's only the remaining 1% who are actually trying to rip you off.

6. Wherever you go, Pringles was there first.

And Pizza Hut. And the Colonel, with his secret recipe. Westernization, in this consumer culture form, is far more widespread in Asia than I realized. In some ways, they do it better than us. Starbucks employees in China speak English well, and are eager for a chance to practice. In Singapore, we were welcomed across the threshold of a Ben and Jerry's by a uniformed employee gushing with pride. I don't know what the lesson is here; there are obvious advantages and disadvantages to the multi-national franchising of Western companies. Our only clear conclusion is: wherever you go, Pringles was there first.

7. English not Esperanto.

As English-as-first-language speakers, we are spoiled. It's embarassingly easy to travel around the world, and not learn anything of other languages. English is widely spoken, although spoken badly by millions. Often we're at a tremendous advantage in group conversation, where, say, a Swede is speaking with a Chinese person...in English, of course. We will get more out of that conversation than either one of them.

8. Thank God I'm a Country Boy.

I often describe myself as a city kid. I'm certainly not the outdoorsy type, and I love the big cities I've been to, such as Montreal, New York, London, and San Francisco. In Asia and India, however, the cities have not usually been highlights. Often, in the developing world, we've been glad to get out of the cities and into more rural settings. Why? Over-crowding, pollution, inadequate infrastructure, begging...they are intense reminders of the disparity that exists between rich and poor. In Malaysia, for example, I wouldn't trade a dozen Petronas Towers for one Pulau Pangor.

9. There's no subsitute for reading about it.

I've always been a big reader, although I haven't always had the travel bug. Reading's probably the one habit I could never break. In fact. both Jenn and I have gone out of our way to make sure we've always had "something to read" at all times on this trip. People who have travelled widely, even if they are avid readers, usually express the idea that there's "no subsitute for first-hand experience." That's true. But there's also no substitute for reading about a place. There's no way that, on any holiday, you could learn as much about a place as you could from a well-written, realistic novel. Of course, too, there's non-fiction: a few hours with a scholarly work of history will always give you more in-depth information than a tour guide. Reading and travel enrich and complement each other. Neither one can serve as a complete substitute for the other.

10. What you learn most about it is the art of travel itself.

More than the history, culture, people, or even the food, what you learn the most, and it all seems incidental until you're actually doing it, is the art of travel itself. It's never a science, because you'll always make mistakes, get lost, get frustrated, and lose things. But it's what you talk about at the end of the day. Every mistake is fodder for the stories you tell later. I guess that's another way of saying "it's the journey, not the destination."

Posted by jennrob 21:05 Archived in Jordan Comments (4)

Pharaohs and Feluccas

From Upper Egypt to the Red Sea Coast

sunny 22 °C

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Sunrise in Upper Egypt, Dec 27th

Dec 26-27 - "Aswan"

(Rob)

By 10:00 Boxing Day, we'd arrived in Aswan. It's a lovely city, whose main street runs along the Nile; our hotel is perched on a hill that overlooks it all. Like most of the people on our tour, we headed out for the main bazaar, a long pedestrian street of stalls running parallel to the Nile a couple of blocks inland. The haggling and the touts again seemed low-key/low-pressure. It might be us that's changed, but they're definitely not as pushy as some places in India or China. Here, too, they ask "what country?" and when we saw "Canada" nine times out of ten they say "Canada Dry!" Yet we haven't seen Canada Dry (ginger ale) for sale here anywhere. I told one guy he should say "hockey night in Canada!" when a customer tells him they're from Canada. Anyway, with a few words of Arabic, these Aswan hawkers graciously give up on hassling you.

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A stall in the relatively easy-going Aswan bazaar

The next morning came really early - a 3:00 AM wakeup call was set for those of us going on the optional excursion to Abu Simbel. Too early, and too gruelling for Anica (it was a six-hour round trip by bus), so Jenn stayed with her in Aswan. They went to the Nubian Museum, and relaxed poolside. Meanwhile, I saw the massive monuments by the shores of Lake Nasser. It's the man-made Lake, straddling the Sudanese border, which necessitated moving Abu Simbel out of harm's way.

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Rob at the foot of the Abu Simbel monuments

But the day was far from over! When we got back at 1 PM, everybody climbed onto a Felucca for a lunch-hour cruise of the Nile. Sprawled on cushiins, we ate koshary at the felucca meandered back and forth the Aswan stretch of the Nile. Then we stopped at a Nubian coffeehouse, and had a coffee that tasted strongly of the spices it contained, such as cloves. Meanwhile, the kids climbed up and down the huge sand dune behind the store. I climbed it once, and it had a great view of the Nile and Aswan across the river.

Dinner was on an island where there's a Nubian village of about 2,000 people. We ate at the home of "Omar," as our tour leader introduced him. It really was a home-made affair: dishes and bowls of food, such as chickenwings and kofta, spread out on carpets that covered a roof-top courtyard. Two meals today where I tried and failed, as always, to sit cross-legged! I'd need a few more Thai massages before I could achieve that. Meanwhile, the kids all had henna done on their hands and arms while we waited for dinner to be served.

Dec 28-30 - "Luxor"

(Rob)

Dec 28

Today we journed north (or downriver) through Upper Egypt, leaving Aswan and eventually arriving in Luxor. Along the way we stopped at two impressive temples, Kom Obo and Edfu. Kom Ombo was memorable for its mummified crocodiles, and also for its Greco-Roman appearance, the first we'd seen of that up close.

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Kom Obo temple

Edfu was huge, and very well-preserved. It wasn't finished until 55 BC. We walked through all its chapels, and looked along the relief carvings to find the evil god Seth, depicted as a hippo (or pig?) being vanquished. Anica enjoyed the way Jacki told the stories of the Egyptian gods on the bus before we visited Edfu.

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Anica at the Edfu temple entrance

The kids passed the time before that on the bus by using their Nintendo DS to chat, draw, and play multiplayer games.

Eventually we arrived at Luxor, at our hotel, The Winter Palace. Except it wasn't our hotel. We all traipsed through the lobby of this gorgeous old hotel, saying, wow, this is way nicer than our other hotels. To Jacki's embarrassment, we were in the wrong lobby! We were staying at the new wing of the Winter Palace. Also nice, but subtract a couple of stars. We did get the last laugh, however, because all the grounds and amenities are shared. We went right out to the pool that afternoon. The air temperature had peaked at 23, but the pool was 26, so we were able to enjoy a swim until the sun fell below the line of palm trees. Our rooms are all "Niile-View," which means we look out over the river and the hills behind that, where the ancient tombs are.

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Our view of the Nile in Luxor

Luxor is the home of the Valley of the Kings, but I have another honour to bestow upon it: worst city in the world for my allergies. There is smog, but what really makes it bad are all the horses. There are hundreds of "caleches" operated here. These horse-drawn carriages seem to fill the air with horsy allergens, triggering (no Roy Rogers pun intended) my asthma. So I'm dosed up here.

Dec 29

Jenn's developed a bad migraine today. She didn't make it much breakfast, which meant missing the enormous Karnak temple visit. Anica also lost her purse today (with her camera inside), and my allergy/asthma combo was acting up again, especially after our horse-and-carriage ride to the temple. So we all had our own reasons to be miserable.

Nonetheless (another Mrs. Lincoln moment), Anica and I found Karnak astounding. It has the tallest obelisks in Egypt, the tallest front gate, it's the largest overall temple complex, and it's the one all the pharoahs of the New Kingdom helped build in turn. There's a statue of King Tut and his wife, a man-made lake, a fallen obelisk, paint colours still visible on outdoor columns, and many more wonders spread over 65 acres. The Hippsotyle hall alone has 134 columns, each several feet around. Everywhere the motif of "two kingdoms" is seen: papyrus decor for Lower Egypt, and lilly for Upper Egypt.

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Karnak temple, as seen from the back of the complex

Later, for dinner, we went to "The Oasis Cafe" as a group, except for poor Jenn. It serves really good Western and Egyptian food in an colonial-era mansion, where the three dining rooms are each a different colour: red, green, gold. Anica got to talk Harry Potter with tour leader Jacki. We intend to bring Jenn back here tomorrow, it was so good; it even had the impossible-to-get bacon to go on the hamburgers!

Dec 30

Jenn was back in action today, though woozy, for our trip out to the Valley of the Kings. She opted not to take the 45-minute donkey ride to get there. The rest of us did, and enjoyed it immensely (although, all the adults were walking like bow-legged cowboys when they got off the donkeys). I rode with Anica, and on the way we passed through little villages, fields of sugarcane being cut, and children in their school uniforms heading off to school. Our donkey seemed to find his way by burying his nose in the butt of the donkey in front of us, which was somewhat disconcerting. Although we were given instructions on the Arabic commands to use, I don't think we had much influence over our donkey. Luckily, it was a calm animal.

The barren hills that form the Valley of the Kings got larger and larger, until we turned a corner and entered the actual valley. The ancient Egyptians chose this valley because a natural, pyramid-shaped rock structure looms over it. It's also on the West side of the Nile (i.e. where the sun sets, perfect for a city of the dead). We went in four tombs. Each had distinct hieroglyphics and paintings inside. Of course, the highlight was King Tut's tomb, despite being the smallest one we saw, because his mummy and sarcophagus are there.

We rode the donkeys to a restaurant for lunch, passing by the twin collosi of Memmon, all that remains of an ancient temple destroyed by earthquakes.

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Donkey-cam! This photo was taken from the back of a donkey during our ride through the Valley of the Kings

Dec 31-Jan 2 - "El Gouna"

Dec 31

New Year's Eve! Our tour leader Jacki said we drove "out of Egypt today, culturally." We are now at the Red Sea resort community of El Gouna, which has no history, and bears no resemblance to the Islamic culture of present-day Egypt. It could be anywhere in the world, really. Their brochure claims that , here, it's " a piece of the dream; a dream where the sun always shines, the water is true torquoise, where the children are always safely entertained and everyone wears a smile" How very Stepford-like! It's a pretty resort, however, built around a series of lagoons, just inland from the Red Sea. The community planning is probably an attempt to correct the ugly over-development of nearby Hurghada, the first resort-town in this area.

Our El Gouna hotel is called the Arena Inn, and has an infinity pool perched over the lagoon. There's also a little playground, much to Anica's delight. She and some of the kids started playing there as soon as we arrived.

Down the street there's a shopping arcade, with many quaint restaurants and boutiques. We had a light lunch at a Lebanese-food restaurant, which was very good.

Soon it was party time. Through our hotel, the whole group went out to a ball at a huge banquet centre. It was cheesy, but fun, especially since everyone in our tour group gets along so well. We had two tables: 10 kids, 10 adults, plus Jacki floating between both tables. Jacki gave all the kids a special gift: t-shirts, each in their favourite colour, with their name spelled out in hieroglyphs on the front, and on the back "Pharoahs and Feluccas, Egypt 2007-2008, Tour Leader - Jacki." There were party favours on the table, there was an Elvis/Las Vegas theme to the evening (including a pretty unconvincing Elvis impersonator), a dance-floor (which the kids made more use of than the adults), and a huge buffet of quite good quality.

When we counted down to midnight, all five families did their best Cinderella impression and made a hasty retreat on the first shuttle back to the hotel. It was actually quite funny that we all had the same idea in mind.

It's hard to believe it's 2008. From July 29th of 2007, we've been away from home. So sometimes my mind plays tricks on me and I think that time isn't passing back home, that it's still the beginning of August!

Jan 1

A typically quiet New Year's Day. Anica and Tim, however, had seen this Go-Kart track just down the street, and before I knew it, everybody had decided to go go-karting! You never know what the day might bring, I guess.

Since Anica (and it was the same with two other kids) wasn't tall enough to reach the pedals, she sat on my lap and steered, while I worked the gas and brake. That meant she wore a helmet, and I didn't. No seat belt either. So we didn't go too fast!

My cold/asthma's not getting better, despite leaving the horses of Luxor behind, so I took a nap in the afternoon, while Anica wrote her diary and read Harry Potter and Jenn used the wireless.

The whole group went out to dinner at a Thai restaurant tonight. It was very good, but it took forever for them to serve the food.

Jan 2-4

My first sick day of the trip! After a horrible night's feverish sleep, I've stayed at the hotel and missed out on the Red Sea snorkelling trip. I'd been looking forward to it literally for months, but with my asthma still giving me trouble, too, I couldn't fathom (no pun intended) the thought of a full day's snorkelling and boating. I hope Jenn and Anica are having a good time! This will be Anica's first time snorkelling.

  • **

When they got back later, I was almost glad I missed the trip. Especially since the fever vanished, and I'm getting the asthma under control. Apparently it was so cold on the boat that most of the adults didn't go in the water, because they were using their beach towels as blankets! But the Red Sea was warm, and Anica got to experience snorkelling. She had no trouble with the breathing, and, wearing a life jacket, along with flippers, explored the reef for quite a while. Anica made this the drawing on her trip evaluation form where it said "draw the most memorable moment on your tour."

Most of the last full day was the bus ride back to Cairo. Again I was struck by the "armed convoy" aspect of our travel. When we make a rest-stop, soldiers with machine guns fan out to form a perimeter, their backs to us, peering out at the desert. Meanwhile, we lazily stretch our legs, the children run around, and we pay one Egyptian pound to use the toilets. It's surreal.

  • **

We're the first family to leave the tour, with a taxi waiting to take us to the Cairo airport at 9:00 AM, January 4th. Everyone gathers for a group photo, and there are hugs goodbye.

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Parting Shot: our tour group while in Egypt gather by the pool at our Cairo hotel

It's been a great group of families to travel with. Two of the families were going to be moving on to an Imaginative Traveller tour in Kenya, but that's been cancelled as of yesterday due to the unrest there. Now they're scrambling to get on the Thailand tour starting tomorrow.

As we head to the airport, our friendly taxi-driver pulls over and treats us to fresh sugarcane drinks. A lovely gesture, although they're made with regular tap water. We decline for Anica, but drink ours down. Luckily, our stomaches proved strong enough. And they were delicious! The driver asked Anica if she was married! "My son is six," he said. "I will give you a hundred camels!" he joked. Anica said, "No!" See, she's learned to haggle. Hold out for three hundred is my fatherly advice.

Dec 26

(Anica)

Today we got the Basma Hotel in Aswan. A very nice 3-star hotel (acrodding to us) with a pool and fairly nice rooms. Then we alked down to a bazzar where everybody hassled you (the funny thing we thought when they said come into my shop, no hassle, aren't they already hassling?) We bought 2 bracelets, 1 necklace, choco bar and coke, took a horse-and-carigge home, had dinner. G.N.

Dec 27

(Anica)

"Abu Simbel or Nubia Museum?"

Today Dad got up at 3:00 to go to Abu Simbel. Me and Mom went to the Nubia Museum. A beautfiull musem with lots of shoes, descriptions and models. After the musem, I played with Mom, read a book.

Then when Dad came, we went on a Felluca (a sort of sail boat in Egypt) and had a lovely lunch of Koshary, bread and bananas. Koshary is a meal of chick peas, lentils, fried onions, tomato sauce, and pasta. Then we got off at this Nubian coffe shop (for Dad at lest, snicker snicker) and so the kids could go up the 100 feet high sand dune to the top(!) When you walked up it was so hard. But when you ran down, o-my-gosh, you couldn't stop yourself from running so fast!!! We went to the Nubian village, and had a lovely dinner of Chicken wings (out of sight!) and lots more food!! Went home G.N.

Dec 28

(Anica)

Went on a five-hour drive encluding sighseeing. Kom Ombo temple and Edfu temple. When we got to Luxor we went in the heated pool! g.n.

Dec 29

(Anica)

Today we went to the Karnak Temple at noon. On the way, Jacki said here's the jellawrey shop we're going into. At the shop, (little) Jacqui bought a bracelet with her name on it, and I bought a book. Then we rode a horse-and-carrige to the Temple. Here is some history from my book: The temple complex of Karnak is the largest of its kind in Egypt. Virtually every pharoah from the Middle Kingdom down to the time of the Romans (approx. 2134 to 31 BC) cotributed to the building work. It consits of a large number of individual temples, such as the Great Temple of Amun, the Temple of the God Khons and the Teple of the Goddess Mut. THERE IS TO MUCH MORE TO SAY! Then we went home and I said, where's my purse?! I HAD LOST IT!!! And, it had my camera (!), my sungllases, my hat and ten Egyptian pounds! Went to dinner, went home, G.N.

Dec 30

(Anica)

New Year's is in one day!

Today we got up still no sign of my purse (sigh). We meet the group and Jacki and started walking over to the boat dock. We found our donkeys and got on them. Almost half an hour later I said (because our donkey kept on sniffing Doug's donkey) let call him Donny Bumsniffer (hee hee). When we got to the Valley of the Kings, Mom was already there (she took the van). The first tomb we saw was Ramses the 9th. No sarcopaguus! Next we saw one deticated to Ramses III. Sarcophagus. But, no mummy. Then we went to the tomb of King Tutankaman. SARCOPHAGUS AND MUMMY!!! Then we got back on a donkey, had lunch, went home, had dinner. G.N.

Dec 31

(Anica)

Today when we got to El Gouna, all we did was rest, watch TV, sleep and eat before going to the New Year's Eve party. We stayed up all night dancing, singing, and playing with balloons and stuff. When it was New Year's they let down all the balloons! G.N. P.s. Jacki gave us t-shirts for presents.

Jan 1

"Go Cart and Thai Food Day"

(Anica)

Today after breakfast we went Go-Carting! Very fun. Then we went home and had dinner at the White Elephant Thai restaurant. G.N.

Jan 2

"Snorkling"

(Anica)

Today we went snorkeling! Only some people. We saw many fish and coral. Dad diden't come (sick). After that we went home and met Dad and had a yummy dinner at Nathan's of chicken nuggets, burgers and fries. Then we and Jacqui went on pictochat (a chatting thing on Nintendo). G.N.

Posted by jennrob 05:31 Archived in Egypt Comments (3)

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