Archive for December, 2012

Day 11 – Homeward Bound

December 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Dec 16

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Last morning in Amman and I am big on wringing out every drop of my journey just to delay the inevitable, as if that were possible. I skipped breakfast in favor of lying in and squeezing a bit more from the hotel room with its fluffy, cloudlike bed. However, when given the opportunity to venture to a mall (mostly to look around, since I don’t like to shop much), I jumped into the private car arranged by the hotel. During the ride, the driver suggested that we go to Amman center to shop; the prices would be less expensive than at the mall.

I like the energy of a city, and the activity on the sidewalks of Amman rivaled any other city. Thinking we were heading to a mall, I left my camera in the hotel room and had to use my phone to snap photos on the drive into the city. Our driver let us out at the King Hussein Mosque which would be our landmark meeting place in a couple of hours.
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After a few last-minute purchases, we entertained ourselves with every little thing we passed: stacks of colorfully wrapped candy, the shop that sold lanterns which hung overhead, seasonings and spices (some of which I even recognized since I couldn’t read the signs), and bright, red fabrics that caught my eye. One store sold sweets made with honey, a container full of tiny balls and other sweets shaped like pecans. When I asked the vendor what they were, he offered one to me. Sticky and crispy on the outside with a soft middle, I could hardly eat the quarter-sized ball of honey because of its sweetness (and I like sweets). After that, I was good for sweets for a while, my taste buds duly shocked.
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Everything drifts into oblivion from there. The short of it is: hotel to Jordan border to cross the King Hussein Bridge. The travel company rep, who looked like Mario Lopez, accompanied us through the formalities and deposited us in the waiting area before bidding us farewell. Cross from Jordan to Israel in a seemingly endless line of checks and screenings. But that’s all dull, dull, dull—time consuming but dull. After supper en route to the Ben Gurion airport, our group soon waved good bye to Israel and boarded the late flight from Tel Aviv.

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Israel is a complicated country. The mixture of people, cultures, beliefs, politics and even the landscape can be a lot to take in. it has many facets, depending on the angle, the impression will be different. Each of us, although we traveled as one group, came back with different impressions. Frankly, I am still processing the experience, never mind organizing the stacks of photos (well, they would be stacks if they were prints).

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Thanks for checking my posts as I unraveled this journey. Was it worth it? Definitely.

Day 10 – Rock City.

December 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Dec 15

Hotel at Petra

Hotel at Petra

When Indiana Jones burst from the Treasury building in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the movie-going public got a glimpse of Petra that captured our imaginations. Ever since then I wondered what it would be like to visit this amazing location. After a cold, early start, we arrived at the entrance of the famous Petra site. Part of the excitement of visiting the second time is seeing the faces on our fellow travelers as they discover the history of this World Heritage site.
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Carriage drivers and horseback riders offered alternatives to the long walk through the Siq. Walking through the rock cavern adds to the anticipation of what lies ahead at the end of the tunnel. The Siq, about a mile long, is a good stroll. Read the plaques along the walk. There is much to learn about the people who inhabited this area on your way. The morning rush was just picking up as we walked. Carriages sped by after passengers had disembarked at the end of the path. They hurried to pick up their next passengers, kicking up dust as they rushed by.

Walking through the Siq

Walking through the Siq

A high-spirited mood filled the air. I just wish tour guides wouldn’t do this: they stop the group, pull them over to the side and direct their attention forward so they have their first glimpse of the famed Treasury. That’s like telling a child what’s in the big birthday present the second before he pops open the top. It’s anticlimactic after all of that walking and anticipation. Better to let each person be surprised when it finally emerges before him.

the Treasury

the Treasury

After listening to our guide’s explanation of the ancient inhabitants and recent population, which was moved from Petra to nearby settlements, our group moved off the main throughway to a rock ledge for a time of worship. With the red Nabataean tombs as background, we sang praise songs, shared testimonies of what this journey has meant to us and prayed, after which our pastor shared from the word of God transporting us to the land of the Biblical Edomites.

What do you see in the rocks?

What do you see in the rocks?

Our time in the Biblical lands was drawing quickly to an end, much too quickly for me. After lunch in Wadi Musa we would travel back to Amman to spend the night complete with a farewell dinner at the Tawaheen Al Hawa Restaurant.

When we spilled out of the bus still buzzing about our day’s events, we had no idea of the dining experience that we would enjoy that evening. Sumptuous décor, fabulous Jordanian food and impeccable service. Just when we thought we couldn’t eat anything more, dessert arrived—fresh apples, oranges and bananas which our servers miraculously transformed into delightfully edible objets d’art.

Somewhere there was a king-sized bed with my name on it, and I was eager to tumble into it.

Day 9 – Arriving in Petra

December 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Dec 14

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After a long bus ride, the sun had set by the time we reached Petra. I had hoped we would arrive at our hotel early enough to enjoy the scenery and layout of the Taybet Zaman. This 100-year old property is spread out in the style of a village. Each guest receives a map to help with finding the room and a latch key that looks like a prop from an old movie. When we swung open the door to our room, I thanked our travel agent for upgrading to this hotel.

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“I love this room!”

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Colorful, rolled pillows decorated the den area. The dressing area outside of the bathroom was charming but functional, plenty of space for our luggage. Too bad we wouldn’t be staying long enough to unpack. A few steps brought us up to the bedroom, splashed with earthy colored rugs, leading to a huge bed. The cozy room resembled a home rather than a hotel room. Compared to the nondescript, impersonal hotel rooms where we usually stay—suitable enough for sleeping but not worth gushing over—this was a treat.

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After dinner, we made our way back to the room with the help of the hotel staff who are always available to direct and assist, to enjoy the few hours we had at the Petra Taybet Zaman. In the morning we would uncover the history of Petra (see you on Saturday night).

Day 9 – Jerash and Mount Nebo

December 26, 2012 Leave a comment



Dec 14
The money changed from shekels to dinars and the time moved forward by one hour when we crossed into Jordan. Of all of the places we have visited, I would not have guessed that we would have a chance to return to Jordan, only because I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity the first time. You know, being so far away and all. A second visit, therefore, affords the luxury of being selective with one’s photos. That was plan, anyway, until we reached Jerash (Gerasa), be one of the best-preserved Roman towns in the world. Can cities be photogenic? I like photographing inanimate objects: colonnaded streets, the ruins of ancient temples, theaters, plazas and city walls.

Ancient Roman Street

Ancient Roman Street

Faces are cool, too, but they move. I am not always the quickest on the shutter, and facial expressions change quickly. For the British-accented coffee/tea seller, I waited. I couldn’t understand the fascination with coffee and tea, even though it was being offered in an ancient Roman city, until I hung around and heard him talk. How does a Jordanian who has never been out of the country develop a British accent?

Coffee/tea seller

Coffee/tea seller

The Oval Plaza

The Oval Plaza

In the theater, there’s a spot where a person standing on it can hear the amplification of her own voice. Just one of those unexpected delights that drops into one’s day like a child who plays with spoons in the midst of a roomful of toys.
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On to Mount Nebo where God showed Moses the Promised Land. The map (shown) points the way to the areas we had already passed through: the Dead Sea, Bethlehem, Qumran, Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. As far as the eye could see, Biblical history stretched out before us.
map at Mount Nebo

map at Mount Nebo

Just one more day of our tour, capped off by the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Petra. Talk about being photogenic.

Day 8 – Christmas in Nazareth

December 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Dec 13

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Nazareth was steeped in the celebration of Christmas when we arrived. Energy was high. People and cars raced from here to there, just as we do as we prepare for the holiday festivities. Vendors busily organized their stalls for the Christmas Festival.

Storytelling in the square

Storytelling in the square

A crowd of schoolchildren listened attentively to the story being told by “Santa”.

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At a nearby table, children concentrated on creating masterpieces at the crafts table.

Crafty kids

Crafty kids

Older students were more interested in socializing with each other and having their pictures taken by our group as we followed our guide through the narrow, winding streets after visiting the Church of Annunciation.

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Sadly, we would bid adieu to our tour expert, Mr. Ronen Khayat, this afternoon when we arrived at the border to cross into Jordan.

Ronen Khayat - Tour Guide

Ronen Khayat – Tour Guide

Ever since our arrival in Israel on Friday afternoon, Ronen answered a constant battery of questions, herded our group through the streets of Jerusalem and into numerous historical sites smoothly, not to mention kept us on time despite numerous attempts on the group’s part to slip into this shop or that for yet another souvenir. It’s not easy to corral a group of excited, camera-toting, sometimes disobedient strangers, but he conducted his duties gracefully. I appreciated his professionalism, patience, humor and dedication to ensuring that our experience in Israel was enjoyable and fulfilling. So here’s a shameless shout out to our super, efficient tour expert. Thank you for an unforgettable time in Israel that allowed us to open our eyes to the many facets of your country.

One of my favorite quotations is this:
If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay at home. (James A Michener)

Here’s to being open to travel.

Day 7 – A Very Special Sail

December 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Dec 12
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It’s Christmas Eve and from early this morning, the stores have been prepared for the inevitable, frantic, last-minute shoppers. The ones, either because of necessity or strategy, who choose to leave their Christmas shopping to the last hours before the Big Day. The strategists hope to nab deeply discounted items in Christmas Eve sales. Some stores boast 70 percent off or maybe more. Where I live, however, the stores post “20 percent off” across their windows and call themselves amazing. Two different perspectives on what a sale is.

on the Sea of Galilee

on the Sea of Galilee

Here’s a ‘sail’ of another kind. Imagine sailing on the Sea of Galilee, the water as still as glass. In the background, Daniel Carmel sings a variety of Christian worship songs. We can’t help joining in and are encouraged to do so—“Days of Elijah” and “Here I am to Worship” among other song. Images of Peter walking on water flashed through my mind—then stayed there, allowing me to enjoy the moment until I snapped back to reality.

from the Sea of Galilee

from the Sea of Galilee

But that’s only one stop of the day. Another stop brought us to the Tabgha (“Seven Springs,” Heptapegon), which is more recognizable to me as the site of the miracle of the loaves and fish.

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We were able to visit the Church of Multiplication, the Mount of Beatitudes and the Banias Springs all in one day.

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At the end of the day, we traveled to the Golan Heights, the easternmost point before the border with Syria. There, we met a vendor selling honey and apples and other sweet treats, delivered with a warm smile. You could see it if I hadn’t blurred the picture (wrong focal point—sorry). Apparently, my perfectionist tendencies don’t extend to my meager photographic skill enough to be embarrassed to post this picture. Thank you in advance for not holding it against me.

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Tomorrow we visit Nazareth, where Jesus lived before He started His ministry. Although Bethlehem celebrated the birth of Jesus, Nazareth was steeped in the celebration of Christmas. You’ll see.

Day 6 – A Day of Beautiful Views

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Dec 11

When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator. (Mahatma Gandhi)

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The day started as raw, rainy and windy, and I prayed the weather wouldn’t dampen our plans which included our morning at Caesarea. Even so, I am far more accommodating when I am traveling than when I am in my normal routine. Trying to take pictures while sheltering my camera from the rain could be problematic, but there is always Plan B—eyes and memory—so no complaints from me. My adaptability was richly rewarded; the sun came out enough to have us shedding our outer layers to take in the warmth. The crashing surf against what remains of the breakwater was the only moisture that we felt as we explored the ancient port city built by Herod the Great. The stadium where chariot races took place at Herod’s palace was underwater. The theater was beautiful.

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Today’s post will focus on the beauty to which even my camera lens can’t do justice. Perhaps that is why our eyes were created as such complicated, intricate instruments. How else could we appreciate the colors, textures and subtle shading of the world around us?
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Take the ruins of historical cities like Caesarea, for example. The rugged beauty and the cloudy sky behind the theater only added to its appeal. Besides, I like palaces, even rocky, ruined ones.

Baha'i Temple

Baha’i Temple

The stunning Baha’i Gardens spread before us as a carpet of color. Described as breathtaking, the painstakingly perfect gardens in Haifa indeed could be the most beautiful in the world. The golden-domed shrine gleamed in the distance. The garden is a beautifully designed artistic expression of creativity. It is not stuffed with flowers as one might expect in a garden. The understated design makes it graceful and peaceful to look at. Although our stop there was brief, having the opportunity to visit the garden was a highlight of the day.

at the Baha'i Garden

at the Baha’i Garden

Of course, that’s my opinion while others may have preferred the spectacular overland views at Megiddo.
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When the world shows its ugly side, I will remember these scenes. That’s one of the benefits of taking the pictures when my memory fades.