Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Israel, Egypt and Jordan

We'd been talking about visiting Jerusalem for years. It was one of the goals I had when we were first married. It only took 36 years, but some things are worth waiting for, and this trip was one of them. Fun For Less Tours ("FFL") was offering a tour of Israel, Egypt and Jordan which fit our schedule. This was our third FFL trip and we have found them to offer good itineraries at a great price. We enlisted several other couples to join with us on the tour, two couples from our home town of Redlands and Judy's sister and brother-in-law from Montana. We improvised from the FFL schedule a little bit: arriving a little early, for a visit to Jaffa; arranged our own side trip to Mount Sinai (some of us); left Cairo earlier to be able to visit Madaba and Mount Nebo; and stayed a day later in Jordan to visit Jerash and have a tour of Amman.

On a Tuesday, In March 2015, we left LAX at 11:10 a.m. for Tel Aviv, Israel. We had a layover at JFK in New York, arriving at 7:35 p.m. and leaving at 9:08 p.m.

On Wednesday, we arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv at 1:55 p.m. One of the three other couples arrived at the same time on a different flight and we eventually linked after passing through customs. We'd arranged to be picked up at the airport and taken to meet our guide, Yosef Spiezer, at the Jaffa Clock, an approximate 20 minute drive. After connecting with Yosef, we visited St. Peter's Catholic Church which honors Peter raising Tabitha from the dead as well as Peter's vision in the house of Simon the Tanner. The other two couples were arriving an hour and a half later, on the same flight, at 3:20 p.m., too late to see St. Peter's before it closed. After our visit, and on the way to the Jaffa Clock to meet the other two couples who were coming to join us, we met the Franciscan Priest, Father Angelo Beda Ison. He invited us to take a private tour of the Franciscan monastery attached to St. Peter's. The other two couples met us about the same time and all of us got a private tour of the monastery by Father Angelo. Afterwards we visited the Ramesses Gate, Mazal Dagim Street and the suspended orange tree inspired by Jaffa oranges, Jaffa Harbor and the whale fountain inspired by Jonah who went to sea at Jaffa Harbor. We stopped for bread at Abulafia and enjoyed a wonderful Libyan inspired dinner at Dr. Shakshuka and celebrated the birthday of one in our party. Afterwards, we were driven to the Dan Jerusalem Hotel in Jerusalem, an approximate one hour drive, where we met the rest of the FFL group.
     Israel, Egypt, and Jordan: A Grand Pilgrimage, March 2015  (Judy)
     Israel: Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and a Few Miracles, Part 1  (Judy)
     St. Peter's Church - Jaffa, Israel  (Bob)
     Laughing Dove  (Bob)
     Israel: Jaffa at Night, Part II  (Judy)
     Abulafia - Jaffa, Israel  (Bob)
     Dr. Shakshuka - Jaffa, Israel  (Bob)

Thursday morning our bus left the hotel at 7:00 a.m. for the Temple Mount. We walked up to the mount, in sight of the Dome of the Rock, but under cover because of some rain, while Michael Wilcox, the FFL educator talked to us about Islam and other matters on a headset. While most stayed under cover, I ventured out and walked around the grounds, up the final steps to the Dome of the Rock and circled it, virtually alone. Al Aksa Mosque was nearby, but our FFL group did not approach it. Eventually the FFL group did approach the Dome of the Rock for a brief visit, but by that time there were others swarming around, in addition to the 90 in our group. The size of our group created issues. To get good views and good pictures, we had to circumvent the group to some extent. Fortunately, with the headsets, I could hear the educator speaking even though I might be 100 yards away. From the Temple Mount we walked through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall and were able to go up to the wall and see pieces of paper with prayers on them stuffed in the cracks. Women are relegated to a barricaded, separate, section of the wall. We visited the southern wall of the Temple Mount, beneath Al Aksa Mosque, where Michael Wilcox again addressed us. From there it was just a short distance to Hezekiah's Tunnel where we walked through a warm, claustrophobia inducing tunnel hewn out of rock over 3,000 years ago in water, above our knees at times. At the end of the tunnel we visited the recently discovered Siloam Pool where Jesus restored the blind man's sight. In the afternoon, we were transported by bus to the walled West Bank to visit Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity and the immediately adjacent Church of St. Catherine (Franciscan). Michael Wilcox addressed us again in the courtyard in front of St. Catherine's. After a visit to the Nissan Brothers store, to look at olive wood carvings, we went back to the Dan Jerusalem for dinner.
     Jerusalem: Temple Mount  (Judy)
     Jerusalem: The Souk Al-Qattanin and the Western Wall  (Judy)
     Jerusalem: The Southern Wall, Hezekiah's Tunnel, and the Pool of Siloam  (Judy)
     O Little Town of Bethlehem  (Judy)

On Friday, after a nice breakfast at the Dan Jerusalem, we left in buses for an archaeological dig known as Beit Lehi, which means Home of Lehi. Along the way we stopped at the Shrine of the Book which included views of the Dead Sea Scrolls and an outside model of Jerusalem as it looked in King Herod's time. We drove on to the Sorek Valley where Samson fell in love with Delilah. We walked down a dirt road, on the edge of a field, and Michael Wilcox gave us background on that story. Near Beit Lehi, our buses were parked along the side of the road and we were taken into the archaeological site by military vehicles over dirt roads. This area is normally off-limits to civilians and the archaeologists have very limited access each year. At the site we went into caves in the ground. One cave contained a gigantic columbarium, with triangular niches carved to create nesting sites for doves. The doves were sold in Jerusalem to pilgrims making sacrifices at the temple. We saw an underground stable, which for me lent credibility for the first time to the idea that the nativity took place in a cave. We saw mosaics from the floor of a Byzantine church exposed to the open air. We stopped at the Valley of Elah and Michael Wilcox gave an inspirational story about the encounter between David and Goliath that occurred there. Back in Jerusalem the buses parked near the Lion's Gate and we walked the Via Dolorosa, or Path of Suffering, where the Franciscans in the 1300s established a symbolic tradition concerning the last hours of Jesus, beginning with his condemnation by Pilate and ending with his death and crucifixion. We stopped at the Church of St. Anne, the traditional spot for the birth of Mary (Anne was her mother), and had an opportunity to sing "I Am a Child of God" inside the church. We visited the Pool of Bethesda, right next door, where Jesus healed the paralytic. Then to the Ecce Homo Convent where we saw the traditional spot for Jesus' appearance before Pilate. Eventually we got to an area right outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional spot for the crucifixion of Jesus and his tomb, where our FFL group disbanded for free time. My biggest criticism of the FFL tour is that it was highly geared to an LDS (or to some extent, Protestant) audience, to the exclusion of traditional Christian views. As our Jewish guide said at this point, "97% of the world views the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the site for the crucifixion of Jesus." What he did not say, but implied was, "and this group for some reason has chosen not to go there." We came all the way to Jerusalem and were at the doorstep, but did not visit that site. I was incredulous. Only a few of the FFL group took advantage of the opportunity to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, including, by the way, Michael Wilcox. I am not steeped in Catholic tradition and I found the Church of the Holy Sepulchre huge, confusing, dark and crowded. There are no signs to identify what you are seeing and I would have appreciated some guidance. We saw Greek Orthodox and Armenian services going on. We went inside the edicule which houses the tomb of Jesus, we took the stairs up to Calvary where Jesus was crucified, although none of that was readily apparent when we saw it, we had to piece it together later. I was blown away. I couldn't wrap my mind around what we had seen. Afterwards, with all of that sensory overload still bombarding my brain, we ate at Family Restaurant in Old Jerusalem, before leaving the Old City at the Damascus Gate and catching a taxi back to the Dan Jerusalem.
     Israel: Beit Lehi  (Judy)
     Israel: Two Old Testament Sites: The Valley of Elah and Mount Carmel  (Judy)
     Stations of the Cross - The Via Dolorosa  (Bob)
     Jerusalem: Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu and the Via Dolorosa  (Judy)
     Saint Anne's Church - Jerusalem  (Bob)
     Protovangelium of James  (Bob)
     Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew  (Bob)
     Pools of Bethesda - Jerusalem  (Bob)
     Jerusalem: Church of the Holy Sepulchre  (Judy)
     Church of the Holy Sepulchre - Jerusalem  (Bob)
     Family Restaurant - Jerusalem  (Bob)
     Jerusalem: Miscellaneous Sights, Sounds, and Tastes  (Judy)

Saturday is the Sabbath to the Jews and we were in Israel. So there the LDS faith worships on Saturday. First thing we drove to the base of the Mount of Olives in the Kidron Valley. FFL reserved a private garden owned by the Franciscans just north of the Franciscan Church of All Nations and there Michael Wilcox gave a talk about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane while we sat around him. While he talked we could view a garden full of old olive trees, the Temple Mount across the Kidron Valley and the Dome of the Rock gleaming in the sun. Afterwards, we walked among the old olive trees, then crossed a small street into a garden of even older trees right next to the Church of All Nations. Then we visited the church, where a service was going on. Then back to the buses where we drove to Mt. Scopus, right next to the Mount of Olives, where the BYU Jerusalem Center is located. We attended a service of the Jerusalem Branch of the LDS Church. Interestingly, a couple of non-LDS FFL guests were not permitted to attend the service because of an agreement the LDS Church made with the Israelis that no proselytizing would go on there. Guards were zealous in preventing us from exploring anything inside, other than the chapel, and anything outside. After the service, we drove just a short distance around the hill to an overlook on the other side. We got out and Michael talked about Jesus in Bethany which was in the distance. A woman shepherd and her flock were on the hill in the distance, lending a bit of symbolism to the discussion. Then we drove north a short distance to an over-look with a great view of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. We drove back down and around the south side of the Temple Mount to Mt. Zion, the traditional site of the Upper Room where the Last Supper took place. It was a former mosque and was very crowded. The setting had no feel of authenticity or gravity for me. So I listened to Michael on my headset while I climbed up to the top of the former mosque and looked around at the buildings in the vicinity. We drove just a short distance across the street and down a hill to the St. Peter in Gallicantu Church which is the traditional location of the Palace of Caiaphas and where Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. While Michael did more talking I wandered inside the church and then down into the basement where old dungeons are found that may have held Jesus for awhile. A beautiful church and fun location. We got on the bus again and drove to the Garden Tomb. There we viewed a potential site for Golgotha which sits at the back of a bus station, then had another lecture by Michael Wilcox before getting an opportunity to wait in line and go inside the Garden Tomb. One of the couples with us discovered a sidewalk stand outside the Garden Tomb compound where they were making falafel sandwiches. They were delicious. From there, several of us decided to go back to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for another look through. That visit helped to clarify some of our earlier confusion and add new understanding. We also saw a few more things, such as the Chapel of St. Helena, where she found the True Cross, down some stairs and deep into the ground. Afterwards, as we got back to the hotel, we saw one of the olive wood carvers, Omar, in the lobby. His son drove us down to his store and we bought several olive wood carvings.
     Jerusalem: The Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations  (Judy)
     Jerusalem: Viewpoints  (Judy)
     Jerusalem: The Last Supper Room  (Judy)
     Jerusalem: Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu and the Via Dolorosa  (Judy)
     Jerusalem: The Garden Tomb and Golgotha (Version #2)  (Judy)
     The Garden Tomb - An Alternate Site for the Tomb of Christ  (Bob)

Sunday morning we left Jerusalem, back toward Tel Aviv, then headed north to Caesarea, on the Mediterranean Coast. Caesarea is a large archaeological park with a Roman amphitheater, part of the foundations of a palace, a hippodrome, ruins of old homes and government buildings and remnants of the old seaport built by Herod the Great. Michael Wilcox addressed us in the hippodrome for 45 minutes. Fortunately, I wandered while he talked, hearing much of what he said, but sometimes not. Those who sat and listened to his lecture only saw brief glimpses of the palace and the amphitheater. I got over to the old harbor, the old government buildings and houses, much more time in the palace (and without hordes of people around me), as well as the amphitheater. This was my other criticism of this FFL Tour. We spent too much time sitting and listening. I'm probably only going to get to these places once and I want to see as much of them as I can. Caesarea was the most frustrating example of this as there was so much to see and the lecture was so long. As it was, there were other things I did not see because of concerns of being left by the group. We took buses a few miles further north and stopped to visit a portion of the Roman aqueduct that brought water to Caesarea. We dipped our feet into the Mediterranean, then drove to the top of Mt. Carmel, relatively close to Haifa, and stopped at the Discalced Carmelite Order Sanctuary and Monastery, the spot traditionally associated with Elijah and his showdown with the priests of Baal. Michael Wilcox addressed us again, in a little garden area, then we walked up on to a flat area of a roof and got an amazing view of the area, including the Jezreel Valley which lies precipitously below. As we drove down Mt. Carmel we stopped at a roadside place popular with buses and ate a mass produced meal, with some options, on our own dime. We drove through the Jezreel Valley to Nazareth where Jesus spent his early life. We drove up a hill and then parked and walked the rest of the way to the top of Mt. Kedumim, also known as Mount Precipice, where the towns people attempted to throw Jesus off a cliff. This was one of my favorite spots on the trip. No big fancy churches covering the site, but an open view of the Jezreel Valley below, views back toward Nazareth where Jesus wandered as a youth, and a view of Mt. Tabor, a possible site for the Transfiguration. Michael addressed the group here a little below the top to avoid the wind which was whipping through. As we drove back down the hill we passed within two or three blocks of the Basilica of the Annunciation, where tradition holds that the Angel Gabriel informed Mary she would have a child. I really would like to have visited, but it was not on the itinerary. We drove to Tiberias and checked in to the Leonardo Plaza Hotel, within a block of the Sea of Galilee. We went out walking through the streets of Tiberias and ate a buffet dinner as part of our tour in the hotel. I considered, and wished in hindsight, that I'd gotten off the tour bus, viewed the Basilica of the Annunciation, then taken a cab to Tiberias. That would have been more significant to me than the walk through Tiberias.
     Israel: Caesarea  (Judy)
     Caesarea Maritima - Israel  (Bob)
     Israel: Two Old Testament Sites - The Valley of Elah and Mount Carmel  (Judy)
     Nazareth - Where Jesus Grew Up  (Bob)
     Israel: The Nazareth Precipice and Tiberias  (Judy)

Monday we got off early to get to Capernaum, the center of Jesus' ministry, before other tours flooded the area. The Franciscans and Greek Orthodox each own part of Capernaum, but only the Franciscan's portion is open to the public. A portion of the foundation of the synagogue Jesus taught in survives, topped by the ruins of a newer synagogue. Michael addressed the group next to the synagogue while I wandered. Portions of the basalt walls of the homes from the time of Jesus still stand, and what may be the area where Peter lived is covered over by a circular space-saucer like building with a see-through floor. An open beach area gives beautiful views on to the Sea of Galilee. We drove back to Mt. Eremos, a hill located between Capernaum and Tabgha, and visited the Franciscan Church of the Beatitudes and surrounding grounds. Michael Wilcox addressed the group in a small amphitheater used for that purpose. The grounds are stunningly beautiful. Into the buses again, we drove further north to Tel Dan, in the Golan Heights, in what is probably the most beautiful spot in Israel, covered in lush forest with a fast moving segment of the River Jordan running through it. Here is where Jeroboam built a sanctuary with a golden calf for the Kingdom of Israel to worship, after Israel was divided into two kingdoms after the death of Solomon. Michael addressed us in three different spots here, but even with my wandering around during his talks, there were other significant sites here that I did not discover and was not aware of until getting back home. During the drive in, we got our best views of Mount Hermon, the tallest point in Israel and a possible location of the Transfiguration. Into the buses again, we drove to Banias, the ancient Caesarea Philippi, at the base of Mount Hermon, where there are the remains of a shrine to the god Pan. This area is also beautiful, although not quite as stunning as Tel Dan. This is where Peter proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah. Michael addressed us again while I wandered through the remains of the old shrine. Unfortunately, I did not learn that there were other archaeological remains nearby, until getting home, including the remains of the palace of Herod Philip. I would have visited these had I been aware. We had the time. We drove back to the Leonardo Plaza Hotel in Tiberias and had a buffet dinner, then went out on a boat later that night on the Sea of Galilee where Michael talked about the story of Jesus walking on the water. He had the lights of the boat turned out while he did so. It was wonderful.
     Israel: Capernaum, City of Miracles  (Judy)
     The Sermon on the Mount - Galilee, Israel  (Bob)
     Israel: The Mount of Beatitudes, the Church of the Primacy of Peter in Tabgha, and Mount Arbel  (Judy)
     Israel: Tel Dan, the Golan Heights, Mount Hermon, and the Hermon Springs at Banias  (Judy)
     Caesarea Philippi and the Cave of Pan - Israel  (Bob)
     Sea of Galilee - Jesus Walks on Water  (Bob)

Tuesday morning we left Tiberias for the Franciscan Church of the Primacy of St. Peter in Tabgha, right on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This is traditionally the place where the post-resurrection Jesus told Peter, three times, to feed his sheep. Michael Wilcox addressed us there, outside the church. From there we drove up to the Arbel Cliff, with spectacular views overlooking the Sea of Galilee above Migdal, hiking about a quarter to a half mile to get there. Michael addressed us again. This is another place proposed as the site for the Sermon on the Mount. We drove quit a bit south of the Sea of Galilee to Beit She'an National Park where we sat on a hill overlooking the Jezreel Valley, in a spot near where Jezebel and Ahab had their palace. Michael addressed us there. Then back on the buses again to the city of Beit She'an, now an archaeological park, where impressive Roman ruins are found, along with other layers of civilization, and where King Saul's dead body was hung up on the city wall. On our return to Tiberius we stopped at Yardenit, a spot on the Jordan River just below the outlet of the Sea of Galilee. This is a beautiful spot Christians often come to to be baptized, and actually much more beautiful than the more likely spot where Jesus was baptized on the Jordan River near Jericho. We stayed one more night at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel.
     Church of the Primacy of St. Peter - Tabgha, Israel  (Bob)
     Israel: The Mount of Beatitudes, the Church of the Primacy of Peter in Tabgha, and Mount Arbel  (Judy)
     Israel: Beit She'an  (Judy)

Wednesday was a long drive, from Tiberias to Taba, Egypt, about 288 miles and 5 hours driving time. The drive was broken up by a stop at Masada, a mountain-top fortress built by Herod the Great and captured by the Romans after the fall of Jerusalem. We took the cable car up and down and got only a very quick tour at the top. It merited much more time than we got. Our border crossing into Egypt was involved, we went through a number of check-points and walked quite a distance between them. Once in Egypt we were taken by bus to the Sofitel Taba Heights Resort, a beautiful hotel on the shore of the Red Sea. I'd arranged ahead of time with the hotel for a driver to take us to Mt. Sinai, further down the Sinai Peninsula, a guide to hike with us up to the summit of Mt.Sinai, and then a tour of St. Catherine's Monastery afterward. The three of us who were going were to meet at the Sofitel reservations desk at midnight, so I went to sleep early and got several hours before-hand.
     Israel: Masada  (Judy)
     Crossing the Border from Israel into Sinai: First Impressions of Egypt  (Judy)

At midnight on Thursday morning, I met two others from our party at the registration desk. We were driven by van through about eight military checkpoints, manned by personnel with automatic rifles and armored vehicles with machine guns.  We arrived about 2:40 a.m. and, with our Bedouin guide, rode camels about two-thirds of the way to the summit of Mt. Sinai, then walked the rest of the way up, arriving a little before sunrise. After sunrise, we walked a different route back down and investigated religious shrines that have been placed there, both Christian and Muslim. After getting to the bottom, we got a tour of St. Catherine's Monastery, one of the oldest in the world. We returned to the Sofitel in time to shower and get ready to leave. Those who stayed behind in Taba went shopping and had time to relax. About 3:00 p.m., we left the Sofitel and drove to the Taba Airport and took a charter flight to Aswan. In Aswan we were taken by bus from the airport to a river boat on the Nile River where we would spend our next few days. We had a buffet dinner then slept. Our boat stayed moored in Aswan.
     Mount Sinai or Jebel Musa  (Bob)
     Church of the Holy Trinity - Mount Sinai  (Bob)
     Mount Sinai Summit Mosque  (Bob)
     Church of Elijah - Mount Sinai  (Bob)
     Chapel of Our Lady of the Steward - Mount Sinai  (Bob)
     Saint Catherine's Monastery  (Bob)
     The Burning Bush, Moses' Well and Jethro's Mountain  (Bob)
     The Israelites and the Golden Calf near Mount Sinai  (Bob)
     Egypt: Resting in Taba and my Husband's Crazy Trip up Mount Sinai  (Judy)

Friday morning we took buses about eight miles to the docks for the Temple of Philae. The Temple is located on an island behind the Old Aswan Dam and we had to take a boat to get there. Afterwards, we went back to our boat on the Nile, went down the Nile about 30 miles and docked near the Kom Ombo Temple, which we toured, along with the Crocodile Museum. Back to the boat, we went down the Nile several more hours and then docked in Edfu. There we were met by carriages for two to four passengers, each carriage had one driver and one horse. We had a massive carriage caravan over to Edful Temple where we had an evening tour and light show at the temple. Edfu is one of the best preserved temples in Egypt and we all wished we could have seen it in daylight. But the night show did allow us to see more that day than we would have otherwise.
     Egypt: Aswan and Philae Temple  (Judy)
     Temple of Isis on Philae Island - Aswan, Egypt  (Bob)
     Egypt: Kom Ombo Temple and the Crocodile Museum  (Judy)
     Egypt: A Carriage ride and Edful Temple  (Judy)
     Egypt: Nile Cruise  (Judy)

Saturday morning we were in Luxor, about 112 miles down the Nile from Aswan. We took a bus from the boat out to the Valley of the Kings and visited the tombs of Ramses IX, Ramses III, Cawsret and King Tut (which required an add-on ticket we had to purchase). Afterwards, we stopped by an alabaster store, then made a quick stop at the two huge, free-standing statutes known as the Colossi of Memnon, each 60 feet tall. Next we visited the fabulous Temple of Ramses III. Late that afternoon we took another carriage ride, this time through Luxor, including a ride through a very tight market where there was barely room for the carriage to pass.
     Egypt: Valley of the Kings, Alabaster Shopping, and the Amenhotep III Temple  (Judy)
     Egypt: Temple of Ramses III (aka Habu Temple)  (Judy)
     Egypt: A Carriage Ride Through Luxor  (Judy)

Early Sunday morning we met at 4:30 a.m. to go take a hot balloon ride. We were ferried across the Nile in a small boat, then bused to where there were about five or six huge hot air balloons being filled. We spent the next hour, plus, high over the sugar cane fields of Luxor, with views of the mountain surrounding the Valley of the Kings and the amazing green/brown line that separates the desert from the lush foliage watered by the Nile. Next we were bused to Karnak Temple, a huge temple complex which some feel are the best ruins in Egypt (I preferred several others over it, including Philae and Ramses III). Finally, we visited Luxor Temple to complete the day. That evening we flew from Luxor to Cairo and then were bused to the incredible Intercontinental Cairo Citystars where we spent the night.
     Egypt: A Hot Air Balloon Ride over Luxor and Valley of the Kings  (Judy)
     Egypt: Karnak Temple  (Judy)
     Egypt: Luxor Temple  (Judy)

Monday morning we had an amazing buffet breakfast at the hotel, then were bused to the Cairo Museum which has a vast array of Egyptian artifacts that seem like they are jumbled together into a warehouse. The King Tut tomb contents are there, as well as mummies of many of the great pharaohs, including Ramses II, who may have been the Pharaoh at the time of Moses. The museum is located near where the Arab Spring uprisings occurred, and tanks with men behind machine guns lined the street. A bombed out government building was next door. Then we drove to Giza where we visited the iconic pyramids and the sphinx. That night we celebrated the birthday of one of our party at Al Bustan Grill Restaurant, part of the hotel complex in Cairo.
     Egypt: Cairo Intercontinental Hotel and the Cairo Museum of Egyptian Antiquities  (Judy)
     Egypt: Cairo City Sites  (Judy)
     Egypt: The Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx  (Judy)
     Al Bustan Grill Restaurant - Cairo  (Bob)

Tuesday morning we diverted from our FFL group. The original itinerary had FFL flying out of Cairo for Amman, Jordan at 1:30 p.m. and free time that afternoon in Amman. We decided that we wanted to make the most of our time in the Middle East, so we scheduled our own flights from Cairo to Amman, leaving at 8:00 a.m. Then we arranged with Jordan Select Tours to give us a tour for this day, as well as a day tour our last day when FFL was scheduled to leave. FFL later changed their itinerary to leave at 10:15 a.m. and provided a tour to the Jesus Baptismal Site on the Jordan River and a swim in the Dead Sea. We kept our scheduled tour with Jordan Select which still gave us a better day. Our four couples were met at the Amman Airport by a van big enough to hold many more. We drove to Madaba, Jordan where we visited the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, full of beautiful mosaics and the famous Madaba Map, a Byzantine mosaic map of the Holy Land on the floor. We then visited the Madaba Arts and Handicraft Center and Mosaic Workshop where we saw women making mosaics and several of us bought some. Then on to the summit of Mount Nebo, where we had the view Moses had when he viewed the Promised Land. We talked our guide, Isam, into an unscheduled stop at the Dead Sea, long enough for us to take off our shoes and dip our feet into the salty water. Then it was on to the Jesus Baptism Site near the Jordan River, a newly named UNESCO World Heritage Site, where we ran into our FFL group just as they were leaving. Finally, we drove to Amman where we were treated to one of my favorite meals ever, at Fakhr El-Din Restaurant. The food was fresh, beautiful to look at, delicious and plentiful. Afterwards, we were driven to the Intercontinental Amman, another beautiful hotel, where we spent the night.
     Jordan: Madaba  (Judy)
     Jordan: Mount Nebo (the Original)  (Judy)
     Mount Nebo - Jordan  (Bob)
     Jordan and Israel: the Dead Sea  (Judy)
     Israel and Jordan: Baptismal Sites  (Judy)
     Bethany Beyond Jordan - Where Jesus was Baptized  (Bob)
     Nutria or Coypu  (Bob)
     Fakhr El-Din Restaurant - Amman, Jordan  (Bob)
     Jordan: Sleeping and Dining in Amman  (Judy)

Wednesday morning we got up early and were taken in buses all the way to Petra, about a three hour drive. We walked in to the Treasury, the incredible building front carved into the side of a mountain, featured in the final scenes of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, then continued on to the Monastery. On the way back out, Judy and I arranged for a camel ride. The camels could not take us out the way we came in (against regulations), so we were taken out the Bedouin exit and then driven by car over to where our bus was located. That night we ate at a restaurant in our hotel: Burj Al Hamam, and had lamb brains which were unusual and good.
     Jordan: On the Road from Amman to Petra, Notes from our Guides  (Judy)
     Jordan: Luminous, Breath-Taking, Mind-Boggling Petra  (Judy)
     Burj Al Hamam - Amman, Jordan  (Bob)

Thursday morning the FFL group packed up and headed for the airport to fly back to the U.S. We extended our stay for that day with another day tour with Jordan Select. We drove to Jerash, about 30 miles north of Amman, with a wonderfully preserved Roman city with temples, theaters, colonnaded streets and Byzantine churches. In some respects, it out-Romes Rome. Then back to Amman where we visited the Citadel, on a hill surrounded by the city. We got a tour of the Abu Darwish Mosque, a black and white zebra-striped building, where we had a chance to visit with the sheikh. Then to the Balad, the old part of Amman, where we got treats of squeezed juice from pomegranates and oranges and an incredible tasty dessert from Habibah known as kanafe. Then to Rainbow Street, the more modern and stylish part of city (but not anywhere near as fun or interesting as the Balad) and then to Reem Al Bawadi Restaurant for another traditional Jordanian dinner. After dinner we were driven to the Amman Airport for our flight home.
     Jordan: The Ancient City of Jerash, "The Pompeii of the East"  (Judy)
     Jordan: The Citadel in Amman  (Judy)
     Amman, Jordan: Last Day, Last Views, Last Thoughts, and Home at Last  (Judy)
     The Balad - Amman, Jordan  (Bob)
     Abu Darwish Mosque - Amman, Jordan  (Bob)
     Reem Al Bawadi Restaurant - Amman, Jordan  (Bob)

Early, early Friday morning, at 2:15 a.m., we flew from Amman to LAX with a layover in Paris for five hours, and a layover in San Francisco for nearly two hours. We arrived at LAX at 5:30 p.m. That's the kind of flight you get when you use Sky Miles.

Despite the criticisms of the FFL tour expressed above, this trip overall was incredible, my favorite so far. For those with a desire like mine to see as much as possible on the ground, knowledge of the sites before-hand, along with an understanding of the lecture format, would enable achievement of that objective. The places we visited were significant from a religious, historic and political perspective. The days were packed with activities and our experience takes on added dimensions as we research and blog about it. Of all the places I've visited, Israel stands out as the place I'd most like to go back to, to see places we did not see, and to seek added understanding at the places we visited but did not really see. 


  1. Wow, even the summary conveys the monumental scope of this trip. Great job of writing it up in one spot. I agree--the trip of a lifetime, and one that cries for some return visits. In addition to Israel, I'd love to visit Alexandria and spent more time in Cairo.

  2. Great synopsis of a wonderful trip. It was fun to read and remember--and recall all of the places we didn't get to. One of the few places I've been that I'd love to make a return visit to.