Jordan & Israel - 2022

April - May 2022
Trip with Abercrombie & Kent to landmark locations in Jordan and Israel.
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  • Day 2

    Day 1

    April 27, 2022 in Jordan ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    Beginning my next trip, this one to Jordan and Israel. This wasn’t Plan A - that one was scuttled due to concerns about COVID entry rules in the countries I had scheduled to visit. But this Plan B is just as eagerly anticipated.

    Today I’ve arrived in Amman, Jordan after a 17-hour trip, taking me from DC to Chicago, and then to here (side note - boy, that Terminal 5 at O’Hare is just about the dreariest international terminal I’ve ever been in. Poorly lit, few windows, even fewer shops. Yikes.).

    The flight map shows that we “went over the top” - or close to it. If you zoom in toward Europe, you can see the borders of Ukraine, where three of my four grandparents were born.

    I’ll be traveling for two weeks, with the map I’ve posted showing where we’re headed. It will be, I think, a bit of a whirlwind with all there is to see and do, but there’s also, well, just a lot to see and do, which also means a lot of packing and unpacking given the number of locations and hotels. But the places I’ll be going to means a step back into history - most of the sites date back to pre-1,000 AD, as well as into cultures that have disappeared or that are hundreds if not thousands of years old and that have continually tried to adjust to their times.

    As one of my brothers said this week, a trip to Israel is one of the places - if not the only place - my dad ever really wanted to go. So he and my mom will be here with me in spirit.

    Once again, A&K is my travel guide. This is my eighth booking with them which makes me, I guess, a brand loyalist. I haven’t yet met any of my fellow travelers - that’ll be tomorrow, the first official day of the journey.

    #A&K #amman #ammanjordan #Israel
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  • Day 3

    Jordan and Israel - Day 2

    April 28, 2022 in Jordan ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    If anyone needs a reminder that Jordan is largely a Muslim country, hearing the Islam call to prayer through my hotel window last evening at about 10 p.m. and again this morning at 4 a.m. does the trick.

    The city of Amman has been here since at least the 13th century BC and, so, in a city of 4.3 million people, everything is built on top of everything else. Low-story buildings built of white limestone is mostly the story, along with lots - lots! - of street-level storefronts. And, yup, there are McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, and a place named Donuts Factory; apparently it used to be Dunkin’ Donuts, but they “went local” (though the signage colors look strangely familiar).

    Street-sighting: a guy wearing a Yankees cap with the familiar NY logo. And, nope, no Boston Red Sox cap sightings!

    And here’s a neat fact: during the third century BC, the city was named “Philadelphia” by the Pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus - but later changed to Amman.

    Our group is 15-folks, including me. We’re just starting to get to know each other and . . . so far so good.

    Our day started with a one-hour drive to Jerash - the Pompeii of the East - with ruins dating to the Eighth Century and earlier; apparently it is the second most visited ancient site in Jordan (after Petra, where we visit later this week). Only 20% of it has been excavated; while what we can already see is pretty amazing, there’s still much more to dig-up.

    That was followed by lunch at a local restaurant - a joint that seats hundreds but which, at lunch time during Ramadan, was uncrowded.

    Our afternoon took us to “The Citadel,” the primary excavation site in the city-proper. It dates to around the 1st century BC (think “Romans”) but also Byzantines and Ummayads, and includes a spectacularly preserved Roman Theater which is still used for performances.

    As I said to another tour member today, “we ain’t got stuff this old back home.”

    The first five photos are from Jerash; the second five are from The Citadel and its Roman Theater.

    #aktravel #jordan #amman #jerash #ammanjordan
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  • Day 5

    Jordan and Israel - Day 3

    April 30, 2022 in Jordan ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    After starting today out with an Islamic site, we moved on to places associated with both Judaism and Christianity.

    We started with a visit to the King Abdullah Mosque, built in the 1980’s by King Hussein to honor his grandfather; it’s located in Amman, directly across the street from a church. Today is the last Friday of Ramadan; as the mosque was preparing for busy noon-time prayers, we were able to go inside (this mosque welcomes non-Muslim visitors). Our A&K guide gave us an awesome history lesson, taught us about the five daily prayers, and walked us through the prayer ritual as we were inside the mosque.

    We had time for a visit to another in-town mosque located on a busy street with lots of storefronts, some still not yet open. But I did see another local wearing a Yankee cap.

    Madaba was our next stop, located about 20 miles outside of Amman. Ruins there date back to the Byzantine (think “Christian”) era. It is most well-known for its mosaics, especially a 6th century map of the biblical lands that make up part of the floor of the Greek Orthodox Basilica of Saint George.

    Next was Mount Nebo where, according to both Exodus and Deuteronomy, Moses could see The Promised Land before his death. On a clear day you can see Jerusalem from there. Also located there is a Byzantine church with a beautifully preserved mosaic also from 6th century.

    Our last stop before our 3 1/2 hour drive to our hotel just outside of Petra was at a mosaic art shop where we could learn how mosaics are made, watch them being made, and - of course - purchase art if we were interested.

    More than anything, today, what I was struck by was the confluence of three ancient religions in these lands. From the mosque located across the street from a church, to a Greek Orthodox church, to Moses’ viewpoint from Mount Nebo and its church. This isn’t a surprise, of course, but once you are here, it just feels different.

    We will spend 5-6 hours at Petra tomorrow before heading toward Wadi Rum, where there will be no internet. But there will be, apparently, 5 million stars.

    #aktravel_usa #jordan #amman #Amman #jordan #Madaba #MountNebo
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  • Day 5

    Jordan and Israel - Day 4 (Petra)

    April 30, 2022 in Jordan ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

    Jordan and Israel – Day 4 (Petra)
    It’s been two days since my last post, but today I’m only going to touch on yesterday; I’ll catch-up on today, well, tomorrow.
    We arrived at the town of Petra on Friday night.  A number of us went out to a local bar/restaurant which had been built into a cave in the rock – that’s where that pic of me smoking a hookah is from.
    The majority of the next day – Saturday - was spent in Petra, the archaeological site.
    We gathered that morning for a short walk to enter the site.
    Thumbnail:  Petra dates back to the fourth century BC.  Built by the Nabataeans, who were masters of rainwater collection and management, stone carving, and agriculture, with Petra itself being a big trading site that made them pretty darn wealthy.  Rumor has it that the Three Wise Men purchased their gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold at Petra.  The place had buildings, temples, a monastery, burial chambers, and more.
    You enter it through this 1 ½ mile pathway through a stone canyon named The Siq – the video I posted yesterday showed the last few steps before entering the first plaza where “The Treasury” is revealed.  From there on, there’s a (huge) series of walking and hiking paths in a variety of directions.  Overall, we spent about 5-6 hours there, and I chose to take “the long walk” to the Monastery, which – I was told - had 1,000 steps to climb to it.  For the full visit, I had more than 18,000 steps and 79 “flights” of steps per my iPhone.
    Every turn revealed more eye candy, whether it be natural rock formations or what has been built into it.  The varying color of the rock is amazing, and the fact that it’s all lasted this long is amazing too.
    It was crowded with tourists, and industry has grown up around and inside it – donkey, camel, carriage, even golf cart rides; vendors selling all sorts of trinkets, and cafes where you can get soda, food, juice, ice cream.  But if you ignore all that (or make it part of the experience), it is just darn incredible.
    Like a lot of places in the world, photos and videos don’t do it justice.  One of the most moving places I’ve ever been.
    Go.  Just go.
    #aktravel_usa #petra #petrajordan #jordan
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  • Day 7

    Wadi Rum and Dead Sea - Days 5 & 6

    May 2, 2022 in Jordan ⋅ ☁️ 27 °C

    After leaving Petra the morning after, we headed south to Wadi Rum, a 300 sq mile red-desert valley lined with towering limestone and granite towers and inhabited by Bedouin tribes. It was the location of many parts of the story of Lawrence of Arabia, and, despite being the “Valley of the Moon,” the film “The Martian” was largely filmed there.

    It’s a vast and scenic place with views for miles when there isn’t a sandstorm (“warm and dusty” was the forecast).

    From the visitor center, we loaded into the open backs of Toyota 4x4 pick-ups for a 30-minute drive across the desert to our camp for the night. There are a number of isolated camps, and ours was made up of domes, connected by a boardwalk, that were each a guest room with running water, flushing toilets (but you couldn’t flush toilet paper), showers, and electricity; a portion of each dome had a curtain that could be opened for a view of the sky. A central lounge area was where meals were had, and a separate lounge building had a bar (but no liquor was served), a pool, and outdoor seating. We were nestled among towers of stone.

    We arrived just before sunset. The sound of the desert was glorious.

    Dinner included goat that had been cooked underground; after dinner, a number of us sat under the stars, drinking wine our tour director brought with him, smoking a hookah, talking.

    The next day started with desert activities – 4x4 driving, climbing a large rock towers to get a view of the desert, hiking in a mountain canyon where there are petroglyphs, walking up a sand dune, and camel-riding (which we started from the area where TE Lawrence located a water spring).

    After that we had a four-hour drive north to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth. Here for two nights, this morning we visited “Bethany Beyond the Jordan,” the location believed to be where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, and then I did what is the traditional Dead Sea activity: float in the water and cake yourself with soothing black mud. After that, it was relax by the pool until dinnertime.

    Tomorrow we cross the border into Israel.

    #aktravel #Jordan #WadiRum #DeadSea
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  • Day 9

    Days 7 & 8 - First Days in Jerusalem

    May 4, 2022 in Israel ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Our last night in Jordan, we had a delicious Lebanese meal, outdoors, overlooking the Dead Sea.
    On the morning of Day 7, we crossed the border into Israel, where we’ll be for the rest of the trip.  We crossed at the Allenby Bridge, named for British General Edmund Allenby who is portrayed in “Lawrence of Arabia,” as he was, at one point, TE Lawrence’s commanding officer.  Met by our guide and driver, we have now had, among the A&K team supporting us, Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
    We’re in Jerusalem for four nights; it’s been around since roughly 3,000 BC, has about 1m people and is roughly divided as 64% Jewish, 34% Muslim, and 2% Christian.
    Our first two days happen to be on Israeli holidays - Remembrance Day - day one, a national day in which respects are paid to the people killed in supporting the State - and Israeli Independence Day; on the Gregorian calendar, that day is May 14, but Israel uses the Hebrew calendar and, so, the date changes slightly each year.
    Upon arrival we drove to an overlook of the city from where we saw the walled old city and its contrast with the new, the lushness, and the hills.  The Western Wall, Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock, and Church of the Holy Sepulcher all stand-out.
    Then it was several hours at Yad Vashem - The World Holocaust Remembrance Center - Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust as well as the Jews and non-Jews who aided Jews during the period.  Educational, enlightening, saddening, maddening, and deeply moving.
    Dinner on Day 7 (Tuesday) was at a restaurant on the roof of a building owned by the Vatican, with glorious views of Old Jerusalem.  Several of us walked through the old city back to our hotel - the famous, old, and beautiful King David Hotel.
    Day 8 was primarily spent on a walking tour of Old Jerusalem, split into four quarters - Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian – partially along the Via Dolorosa, and ending with a visit to the Western Wall.
    @aktravel_usa #Israel #Jerusalem
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  • Day 10

    Day 9 - Jerusalem, Bethlehem

    May 5, 2022 in Israel ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Thursday, May 5th, took us, first, to a few locations in-and-around Jerusalem:  the Garden of Gethsemane (where Jesus is said to have prayed with his disciples), the apparent location of the Last Supper, a large-scale outdoor map of Jerusalem in 66 CE (fantastic!), and the Dead Sea Scrolls (which date to somewhere between the 3rd century BCE and the 1st century CE) and the Aleppo Codex (10th century CE) – both amazing to see and the stories of how they were found and how they made it to the museum is equally amazing. The two containers that the first scrolls were found in by Bedouin herdsmen are nicknamed Laurel and Hardy.
    From there, we headed into the West Bank for lunch at the home of a Christian family followed by a visit, in Bethlehem, to the Church of the Nativity, a basilica from the 6th century that sits over a cave believed to be the place where Jesus was born.
    The family whose home we visited was deeply warm and hospitable, and they served us homemade mezze, couscous, a kind of beef stew, and local wine.  The mother, Faten (she is named after Omar Sharif’s wife), was raised in Germany before her parents returned to the West Bank, talked to us about her family – we met her husband (who was working in their kitchen most of the time), four of her grandchildren, and one of her sons, who was our tour guide in Bethlehem.  Overall, in the West Bank, Christians only make up about 2% of the population.
    Bethlehem is no longer “oh little town,” as its population sits at around 25,000, and it is jammed with stores and traffic.  Of course, the souvenir shops, which probably have been there for 2,000 years, are vibrant.
    #aktravel #Israel #Jerusalem
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  • Day 11

    Day 10 - Dead Sea and Masada

    May 6, 2022 in Israel ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    Our day started with a long drive along the Dead Sea, which gave us a feel for its breadth, though that has shrunken considerably over the years. Not only is it the lowest point on Earth, but its water level is dropping at a rate of about three feet per year. We could see abandoned resorts that had once been seaside but that now were empty shells on an apocalyptic landscape. The 34% salinity also ends-up creating large sinkholes along the edges. But we also saw fields of date palms and a kibbutz here-and-there.

    The destination was Masada, an isolated mountain-top fortification built by Herod the Great that dates to the 1st century BC. In 73 to 74 CE, it was the site of a siege by the Romans against Jewish zealots that were hiding there, and it allegedly ended with the mass suicide of close to 1,000 people.

    It’s wicked cool. I remember my dad being fascinated by it by virtue of his long-time subscription to National Geographic. Today it is one of Israel’s most popular tourist attractions, and you can clearly see why.

    After a few hours there, we set off to Jericho, which today is a Palestinian city of about 25,000 people in the West Bank (we drove through several checkpoints on both days 9 and 10). Dating back about 11,000 years, Jericho is the oldest city in the world, with the world’s oldest known protective wall (our tour guide frequently uses the term “back in the day,” and he usually means, well, waaaaaay back in the day). As we drove to Jericho, we passed the cave where the Dead Sea Scrolls had been found.

    We had a wonderful final evening in Jerusalem, walking first to a superb restaurant, The Culinary Workshop and walking after dinner to a speakeasy, The Gatsby.

    #aktravel #israel #jerusalem #masada
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  • Day 12

    Day 11 - Acre and Nazareth

    May 7, 2022 in Israel ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    We drove out of Jerusalem for the final time on Day 11, headed for the northern coast city of Acre, one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on Earth. It sits on the coast of the Mediterranean, across the bay from Haifa, and our reason for being there was to visit the citadel and the old city. The city saw a ton of action during the Crusades, and the citadel, remarkably restored, gives you a feel for that 13th century action.

    We strolled through both the old and new markets, buzzing with shops and people and activity.

    Turning a corner and walking through a stone gate, the Mediterranean spread out in front of our restaurant for lunch, breezy and blue and busy with boats, a vast difference from the Dead Sea.

    After lunch, to paraphrase Robbie Robertson, we pulled into Nazareth - seeing a Merry Xmas sign. A beautiful 1960’s era church sits over the apparent site of Mary’s annunciation. The town itself – busy with 80,000 people - is considered the Arab capital of Israel; our guide commented that when Nathaniel, in the bible ask, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”, he clearly was talking about parking. But the baklava that we ate there was darn good too.

    Our spot for the next two nights is an old stone Scottish hospital in the town of Tiberias, now a hotel owned by the Church of Scotland. It overlooks the freshwater Sea of Galilee (which is really a lake) and, across the lake, we have a view of the Golan Heights, which we’ll visit tomorrow.

    #aktravel #israel #nazareth #akkoisrael #tiberius #seaofgalilee
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  • Day 13

    Day 12 - Magdala, Capernaum, Golan Heigh

    May 8, 2022 in Israel ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    Our day was spent primarily around (and on!) the Sea of Galilee.

    Taking off from our hotel in Tiberias, we first arrived at Magdala, the site of one of the oldest synagogues in Israel, having been built around year 20 CE and destroyed around year 68. A menorah - the first symbol of Judaism (and before the Star of David) - is carved onto a stone found there, making it the oldest known representation of one in a Jewish context and likely carved by someone who had seen the Menorah in the Second Temple.

    Capernaum – an ancient fishing village on the north shore of the Sea – is believed to have been the home of Peter and the place where several stories of Jesus’ miracles occurred. There also are two ancient synagogues, one built (of limestone) atop the other (built of volcanic rock).

    Lunch was had at one of the best restaurants we’ve visited all trip. Glorious, glorious food.

    Like all of our days here, the weather was glorious – sun shining with temperatures in the high 70’s to low 80’s.

    But as we began to climb to a view atop the Golan Heights, the temperature dropped by 15 degrees until we reached the top, at about 3,800 feet. From atop Mount Bental – the location of an important battle during the 1973 fight for the Heights – we had views of Syria and Lebanon, as well as Mount Hermon, the tallest mountain (with skiing!) in Israel.

    From the mountain we returned to the Sea for a short cruise on a boat named “Noah” with a dance instructor who led the group in the hora.

    Our day ended with an Israeli wine tasting (we learned what made some wines “kosher”) at our hotel, followed by a delicious dinner in the town of Magdala.

    We leave Tiberias in the morning and will spend our last night in Tel Aviv.

    #aktravel #Israel #magdala #capernaum #GolanHeights #MountBental #MountHermon #Tiberias Magdalena Restaurant - מסעדת מגדלנה Tibi's טיביס
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