Middle East
Middle East
Cambodia → Thailand → Jordan → Israel → Kuwait → Turkey → Bulgaria → Serbia → Croatia → Bosnia →
Montenegro → Albania → Macedonia → Greece → England → America → Canada
 
30 MAR 14 - 03 APR 14
ALJOUN, JORDAN

Jordanians often include 'Welcome' when they are talking to us and often at the end of a phrase. Fitting then that we should say goodbye to this amazing country and... Welcome!

-steve-

Jordan has completely blown my expectations. Until about a year ago, I barely even knew it existed. I certainly had no clue it contained so much to see and do, nor how friendly, kind and welcoming its people would be. We came because we knew it would be colder. We leave having been spoiled rotten over the past two weeks.

We've been spoiled by a few things:

The food: delicious hummus and schwarma every day? Yes please!

The history: Layer after layer of history is on display - from sites mentioned in the Old and New Testaments, to Byzantine era crusader castles, to beautiful Ottoman styled architecture. Each era is as vibrant and colourful as the sandstone rock formations ubiquitous in the country.

The sights: from Petra to ancient Philadelphia, from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea, from mountain tops to deep desert gorges, Jordan has pretty much everything to offer.

The people: can't count the number of times people said (with wide grins on their faces), "Welcome to Jordan". Nor can I count the number of times people bent down to squeeze the girls' cheeks, try to make them laugh, or buy them candy.

Top notch country it is!

-amie

 
 
I'm not a pillar, I'm Aya
 
Family at Jerash (Roman Deapolis) Ruins
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
12 MAR 14 - 03 APR 14
AMMAN, JORDAN
 
 
23 MAR 14 - 29 MAR 14
AQABA, JORDAN

The Dead Sea completely exceeded all my expectations. I was convinced that it would be slightly more buoyant than other familiar ocean waters and this was by far not the case. This is one experience that cannot be matched anywhere in the world and is highly recommended.

The most shocking thing to me about the small sliver of the Red Sea which Jordan has claim is the proximity to it's 3 neighbors. A few kilometers down and across the bay, coastal towns in Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia are all clearly visible. It is amazing that this confluence of diverse countries actually exists. The snorkeling here in Aqaba is amazing and it was quite a surprise when I glided over an old tank submerged not far from shore.

-steve-

You walk into the Dead Sea and you have these images emblazoned in your mind - you know, the ones of people reading newspapers while reclining in the waters. And you think, 'surely this can't be true" as you wade in and it feels completely normal.

And then once you're deep enough, you lean backwards and float. And at some point the realization hits that you're not treading water and you aren't flapping arms or kicking legs to keep your head above water. It's more like you're sitting in an inner tube, hovering at the top of the water, but there's no floaties in sight.

It's just sea stretching before you. And it's surreal. Especially when you drop your legs down and you can't reach the bottom, but your whole upper torso is sticking out of the water! Kind of like a synchronized swimmer, but no kicking legs required.

It was amazing.

There were a few crisis moments - the kids of course didn't understand "high salt content" and crying ensued as the girls splashed the super saline water into their eyes by accident. Several trips to shore were made to rinse eyes with fresh water!

-amie

 
 
Steve + Amie after mud-bath
 
Arwen at Ma'an hot springs
 
 
 
Steve snorkeling to underwater tank south of Aqaba
 
Amie in the classic Dead Sea newspaper pose
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
25 MAR 14 - 28 MAR 14
WADI MUSA, JORDAN

As I write, I'm puffing apple flavoured sheesha, completely chilled out at our guest house. I've also lathered my hands with lotion because, the desert, as it turns out, is not great for post-tropics skin. It is good at preserving antiquity, however, and over the past week we've marveled at history perpetually on display in Jordan. This country is oozing with incredible things to see and I do feel very privileged to be here wandering this ancient land with my sweet little family.

Visiting the ancient Nabataean burial city of Petra was the biggest highlight for me. While we normally groan every morning as the girls wake up at the crack of dawn (their internal clocks are hardwired for 5:30 or 6:00am no matter what we do or how early/late they go to bed), at Petra it came in handy. We were walking through the Siq - that incredible walkway through mile-high rock - by 6:20am, and caught our first peek at the Treasury by 6:30. And we were the only ones there! We sat on the benches, the Treasury's impressive facade before us, and ate our picnic breakfast. At noon when we headed back into town for lunch and a nap, that same area was teeming with people, camels and mules. For once we were thankful for our early risers.

Everything about Petra - the architecture itself and the beauty and detail of every tomb, the pink and orange swirls in the sandstone, the layers of stone rising into rock towers and hills - was breathtaking.

I loved it. All of it.

Experiencing the desert through the eyes of Aya and Arwen is priceless. Could have done without the confusion at the Wadi Rum visitor centre and the scams that came along with it, but I wouldn't have passed up the opportunity for a camel ride with our two wee ones in tow, or the chance to sleep in a "Bedouin tent", however far from real deal the experience actually was!

The desert area of Wadi Rum is spectacular. Rocky badlands stretch for as far as the eye can see. It's wild and breathtaking. It doesn't get any better than that view greeting you first thing in the morning as you throw open the door of your tent.

-amie-

We're glad to be back in Jordan after a week 'across the river'. That being said, it's pretty hard to put words to our last few days. We've had some incredible experiences driving around Southern Jordan visiting Petra, old crusader castles, sliding down sand dunes, hauling the girls along several hikes, and adding to Aya's 'I rode that' portfolio.

For once the kids waking us up at 5:30 every day was an advantage. We were the first through the gates of Petra, speed-walking through the narrow Siq canyon to be the first of the day's thousands of tourists to experience the old Nabataean canyons. We hiked all morning in record time to be back at our hotel before nap time. After the girls slept, we forced them against their own wishes back into the canyons for another couple hours (due to exorbitant entrance fees, we had to get our money's worth).

One of our best experiences was staying in a Wadi Rum tent camp. The scenery was breathtaking and we were treated to Bedouin hospitality and feasting. It's also been incredible to have a rental car and explore off the beaten track. We've snickered a few times at the various possibilities like 'this way to Saudi Arabia' etc..

-steve-

 
 
Wadi Rum's seven pillars of wisdom mountain
 
Steve + Aya on the way to hot springs near Madaba
 
 
 
Aya at Mujib Canyon
 
Arwen riding a camel
 
 
 
Aya ready for a Bedouin adventure
 
Aya + Arwen overlooking Mujib Canyon
 
 
 
Tent camping in Wadi Rum
 
Steve acquainting Arwen with some camels in Petra
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
14 MAR 14 - 20 MAR 14
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL
 
 
18 MAR 14 - 19 MAR 14
NAZARETH, ISRAEL

We are finding Israel extremely expensive so we resorted to the cheapest accomodation option - couch surfing. We hooked up with a family who lived in suburban Nazareth. It ended up being a whole lot better than a couch and we ended up learning a lot about the country and local politics in the process. We also rented a car for a couple days, drove around the Sea of Galilee (even through the Golan heights near the Syria border and a peek at the West Bank) and saw various biblical sites like Capernaum and the mount of the Beatitudes.

-steve-

For me Galilee was a beautiful, spiritual experience. Wandering the hills where Jesus did his ministry. Seeing the lake (and tossing stones in with Aya), where he calmed the storm. Exploring the hillside town of Nazareth, with its winding walkways and cobbled streets.

While the various official sites - the Church of the Annunciation, etc. etc. don’t do much for me (I can’t help but wonder how it is that these sites became “official” in the first place), just being in the region where Jesus walked and taught and lived a life dedicated to radical love and grace, was powerful.

As we hiked to the “Mount of the Beatitudes” and saw the wildflowers bursting with colour on the hillside, the words of Jesus about the lilies of the field, and treating others as we want to be treated, kept flooding my mind. It helped that we walked slowly – Aya insisted on hiking herself, picking flowers, and turning over every rock. I was thankful for the chance to really take it in, slowly, deliberately.

I probably won’t ever read those passages again without the image of the flowers next to the wheat fields with the lake of Galilee in the distance.

Another highlight in the Nazareth area was couch surfing. We’d never couch surfed before and we had a marvelous time! Our hosts were a friendly couple, one who has lived in Israel their whole life while the other immigrated in the mid-70s. They graciously let us stay in their spare room, eat far too many cornflakes (Aya ate at least three breakfasts worth of cereal both mornings), and use their hot water. We also had a lovely city tour with our host as a guide. Thus far in our trip we haven’t bothered hiring guides knowing that the kids won’t have the attention span, and therefore nor will we.

So this was special – an insider’s perspective on Nazareth - its joys and its woes: the intercultural (and religious) conflicts and the insights into history. To top it off, he introduced us to a secret spice shop with the most amazing selection of dried fruits, nuts and candies, and treated us to lunch at the best hummus shop in the city.

We had hoped for a chance to really hear people’s stories and got that by staying in their home. The Kampot pepper and Jasmine tea – straight from Cambodia – that we left them as gifts will never repay their kindness.

-amie-

 
 
Stop along the sea of Galilee
 
Roman ruins in Capernaum
 
 
 
Zappori National park near Nazareth
 
Exploring old aqueduct at Zappori National Park
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
14 MAR 14 - 17 MAR 14
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL

Old city Jerusalem might be one of the most astounding places on earth but it is also equally as confusing. So it was fitting that our ride from the Jordanian border deposited us in an unmarked area of Jerusalem and we began walking hopelessly lost. Even though it ended up not being far from the old city, we wandered around for a couple hours trying to find our hostel and pretty much collapsed into a group nap time soon afterwards.

It's not an easy task to describe the old city. The whole place is a winding labyrinth of stone walls, markets, caves, walkways and religious sites, mirrored by an equally strange mix of tour groups, cultures and religious expressions. Growing up in the church didn't save us from being rebuked by the major religions. First it was inappropriate Sabbath photography at the Western wall, then entering the wrong way to the temple mount (Dome of the Rock) and finally someone thinking our baby carrier left in a church corner was a suspicious package.

It didn't take us long to realize we were some of the only independent travelers in Israel. All the important sites are clogged with tour groups unlike anything seen out of China. Given the myriad tour groups and narrow streets, it's a fast-walker's nightmare.

My favourite sites are always the obscure ones like swimming through Hezekiah's aqueduct tunnels. Aya's was definitely the Biblical zoo where her favourite animal was the dog-sized rodent. We've just spent four days in Jerusalem and now we're heading north for a couple more. Prices are about five times that in Jordan so we'll be crossing back as soon as possible to get our $3 hummus and fixins meal instead of the same thing in Jerusalem for $15.

-steve-

Where do you start describing Jerusalem? A city that is thousands of years old. A city I've known about and heard about since I was a kid sitting in front of the flannel-graph board in Sunday School.

Jerusalem.

It's daunting. Maybe it's three major world religions all vying for their place (and us making faux pas all the time according to different ones!). Or maybe it's staring history in the face and feeling rather small because of it. Or maybe it's knowing that Jerusalem fits into the bigger picture of a contested land in a contested region of the world. And you know how much I love conflict. :)

It is a most surreal experience. Walking the cobbled streets where Jesus and the prophets walked. Sitting down for mint tea at a small road side stand. Haggling for a mosaic tile with a vendor. Catching a glimmer of the temple mount at sunset.

You can almost see history flashing before your eyes.

A highlight for me was walking through the old excavation site of the "City of David" - the farthest reaches of Old Jerusalem, then wandering through the Kidron valley and up to what everyone agrees to be the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane, and then back down to our hotel by the Via Dolorosa.

Jerusalem might look completely different now (with its high rises, fabulous infrastructure, and modern restaurants) than it did 2000 years ago, but there was something about literally walking that road that was poetic, powerful and moving.

-amie

 
 
Family on the Ramparts wall walk
 
Aya lucky enough to celebrate Jerusalem Purim
 
 
 
Steve + Aya crawl-swimming through Hezekiah's Tunnel
 
Amie and Aya in the Armenian quarter
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
12 MAR 14 - 13 MAR 14
AMMAN, JORDAN

The overnight flight from S.E. Asia to the Middle East with kids couldn't be described without using 'awful' and 'hell' a few times. A big scream-fest that made us question whether holding the palm of a hand over a kid's crying mouth is any better than spanking and locking in the bathroom. It got better soon after though. We were whisked away to a hotel and treated to a breakfast of hummus, feta, and olives. Falafel and baklava weren't too far behind and this is a huge step up after the kingdom of lawnmower meat on rice.

We decided to shake the 4 hour jet-lag off in Amman for a couple days (drugged the kids after they were wide awake at 2AM the first morning). The first thoughts we have are freezing ones. Trading our usual 35° humid weather for rainy 7° was hard enough for us and down right shocking for our tropical babies. Aya got so cold walking around that her pee restraint muscles stopped working.

There were other big changes too. No motorbikes, no food-carts, no dogs (upgrade for sure), no bum guns (instead mysterious toilet pitchers that we have yet to figure out) and people constantly offering us rides in their cars because we were the only family walking around in the freezing rain (never in our 6 years of Asia were we ever offered a ride in someone's car). We laughed that there was an air conditioner in our rooms after freezing to death the first night. And quickly stopped laughing when the next morning noticed in the common area that there is also a heating function. Our first outing focused around eating as much local food as possible and buying scarves, toques, mini-mitts, a balaclava and long kid socks.

It's safe to say we have a lot of learning to do and a lot to marvel at in this new world. We're off to the Holy Land now for a week and excited to return to Jordan for another couple weeks afterward.

-steve-

 
 
Temple of Hercules at the Amman Citadel
 
Aya at the Citadel above Amman