Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thursday, October 16, 2014

a night in Paris

Posted by Hippo Bean at 7:00 PM 0 comments

I had quite a few of things to check off in this trip. The usual luggage that might or might not make it, the airport pickup, the desert castle tour, the flight to Tel Aviv and the Jerusalem tour. All turned out fine.

I pulled over the window covering and saw bikers in red and blue along the hayarkon street. Today is the bike race in Tel Aviv. entire families were out on bikes. I so envied them. Over the sea, dark clouds overhead with thunder and lightning, and it was pouring. When the clouds parted and the rain stopped, I took a short stroll along the promenade again. Very sad and reluctant to depart from this place. I so loved it here. Didnt want to leave the nice hotel, the view of the tel aviv promenade and the mediterranean. If israel was any closer, I'd have come back on weekends! I so love israel.

Surprising that the security at Ben Gurion wasnt tight. I was asked a few questions and got a yellow ticket with security code 4 for my luggage and 3 for my passport. Guess the Hippo wasnt much of a security risk.

The flight to paris was again on an almost empty plane. It landed on time and passport control didnt take time at all. The guy simply stamped my US passport without much of a glance or any questions. Took the CDGVAL to terminal 3 and followed the tripAdvisor's reviews to follow the blue line all the way to the Ibis hotel. Ibis was another good choice. The cheapest airport hotel in Charles de Gaulle, no frills, just a comfy bed, good size flat screen TV, a table and chair, place to put my luggage and a small closet behind the TV to hang things. The bathroom was small but adequate. And everything inside the room worked. I love hotel rooms like this. I opened the window and it was raining a little and the outside air was humid. Inside the room, I didnt hear any jet noise. I had a good night sleep and woke up early to make my journey back to terminal 2 to catch my double-decker Air France Airbus home.

A Nostalgic trip! So sentimental ...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

If Israel were any closer

Posted by Hippo Bean at 9:00 PM 0 comments
According to google, it would take about an hour to walk from the gordon beach to st peter's church in old town of jaffa. I've made it in a 40 minutes slow walk, in the cool early morning air. A few people were out jogging with their dogs, working out on the exercise machines on the beaches, or otherwise taking a stroll and drinking coffee by the seaside. I loved this walk. The promenade was designed perfectly for strolling by the sea, with views of modern highrises on one side and the cool open Mediterranean on the other. It's paradise! It's the promised land! The magnificent view of the Jaffa hill appeared bigger and clearer as I inched closer to it. The Port was already busy by the time I reached Jaffa. I climbed the stairs to the hill. Arriving, I came first upon the zodiac fountain next to the st peter's church. The church pink facade was interesting and inside, the altar had a modern piece that represented the sun and stained glass windows with figures of saints all around. Very pretty and modern church. Some tourists were praying and singing inside the church, an interesting contrast, kind of a mixture of past and present, traditional and contemporary, old jewish songs in a very modern church. up on summit hill, the Pillar of Faith was as i remember it 22 years ago, bone white, imaginative, and full of significance. the carvings on the pillar on one side showed Abraham with Isaac bound for sacrifice; on the other side, it showed Jacob’s ladder; and the cross-piece on top displayed the conquering of Jericho by Joshua and the Israelites. the monument represented God’s promise first made to Abraham, then to Isaac and Jacob, and realized through Joshua. What a wonderful piece of art full of meaning and exactly what this land was about. The view of Tel Aviv from this vintage point was breathtaking. I remembered it all. Since I didnt do it the first time, this time I've walked through the maze of the zodiac streets, narrow streets lined with artists shops, each street named after the Jeweish zodiac, each street with blue signs depicting the zodiac sign and name of the street. In the afternoon I swam in the shallow refreshing waters of the Mediterranean on Gordon beach right in front of my hotel The Renaissance. Later in the evening, I strolled along the promenade again, towards north this time. There's a public swimming pool, the Gordon pool, where people were doing laps at night. Past the Tel Aviv Marina, the Hilton hotel had its own private beach and pool, and a small park with very green lawn on a small hill. Back to Gordon beach, people were still playing volleyball, jogging and taking evening walks, just like me. I loved the atmosphere here. Poeple simply enjoying themselves. carefree. full of healthy energy. fun loving. life loving. no signs of rockets. It was a good relaxing day in Tel Aviv. Too bad the Benetts werent here. it would have been nice to see them again and enjoy the promised land with them. They are so fortunate to live in such a wonderful land. the Hippo sooooooooooo love Israel. If Israel were any closer, I'd go every weekend!

Tel Aviv photos:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

holy jerusalem

Posted by Hippo Bean at 10:00 PM 0 comments
I remember the drive up to Jerusalem 22 years ago as our bus rounded up the hill, we sang Yerushalayim Shel Zahav ירושלים של זהב (jerusalem of gold) and Hevenu Shalom Aleichem הבאנו שלום עליכם (we bought peace to you). The air was cool and crisp as contrast to the humidity of the rest of israel. This time, there was traffic and loads of buildings along the highway. Except for traffic congestion and more buildings, not many changes in these 20 some years. Today is Sukkot, the feast of tabernacles, and many jews are out in the holy city, Hasidim wearing their round fur hats, and the road up to the old city was blocked, so we had to climb the hill on foot to the zion gate to enter the old city. This actually gave us an excellent opportunity to slowly appreciate the view of the Kidron Valley, with the Mnt of Olives on our left and the old city walls and Mtn Moriah on the right. memories resurfaced as I've seen all these before and I remember it all and felt quite sentimental to be the holy city again. We first visited King David's tomb (he wasnt actually burried there but most probably further south in the City of David), men and women were separated, then we paid a brief visit to the Last Supper room. 22 years ago this room was empty except for us, and we entered it through a winding staircase. A section of the room was cordoned off as it was believed it was a remain of a 2000 year old street or something. I remember we went all quiet and a woman in our group started to sob, so forcibly as if she was repenting her sins or was sorry Jesus was about to be cruxified. It was a moment I'd never forget. Today this room was packed with loud tourists. We next headed to the 4 Sephardic Synagogues in Jewish quarter. we walked through the old cardo, with few remaining columns standing. I didnt want to do the via dolorosa this time, nor see all the Christian churches again, nor enter the moslem quarter as it's too busy, loud and annoying. I've wanted to only be in the jewish quarter, much more civilized, clean and quiet and without all the hassling from the vendors. The western wall was packed with tourists and i didnt even bother to slip my prayer wish paper on the wall cracks. We exited the old city through the smelly dung gate and visited the excavations of the city of David, my first, a fantastic archaeological site, with an entire palace wall intact, walked through the entire Siloam channel, looked down into the Warren's shaft, and walked the narrow Hezekiah's tunnel, and ended up in the Siloam pool in the gihon spring. The mtn of olives, mtn moriah with the dome of the rock on the temple mount, נחל קדרון the kidron valley, situated between the mtn of olives and mtn moriah, with the Yad Avshalom (absalom tomb), Zechariah's Tomb, Garden of Gethsemane (Γεθσημανή, גת שמנים‎) where Jesus prayed and his disciples slept the night before Jesus' crucifixion, the Church of all nations overlooking the valley, all familiar to me. Oh, I've been here before and seen these ancient monuments, the landscape of the holy land, and the bible stories, again, became real and alive.

The map of our walk in the holy city:





Holy City photos:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014

desert castles

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:00 PM 0 comments
My desert castles pickup did show up and on time. I was worried that i wouldnt have enough time to do the castles and get to the airport on time since I've changed my Tel Aviv flight to an earlier one, so I've called zaid tours the day before, to change the pickup time to 7:30. They were very polite and totally customer oriented.

The drive to the first castle took only about 1 hr. Qasr Kharana was a very small rectangular structure that was most likely used as an caravanserai, or an Inn, a resting place for traders, than a true castle. It had 2 stories and many archways. The architecture looked more moorish. We didnt spend much time there and hurried on to the next. Amra was even smaller but the inside was decorated every inch with frescoes. The small inner dome was beautifully painted. It reminded me of the painted rockhem churches in Ethiopia. However, the paintings showed secular art instead of religious. Amra, built in the 8th century, was both a fortress and a residence for the Umayyad Caliphs. It was interesting, different and quite impressive. Another half hour we reached a fork, iraq to the left and Saudi Arabia to the right. The driver asked me which way I preferred to go. Neither looked appetizing, so I said "let's stick with Jordan". We went left. 5 minutes later, we came to the town of Azraq, which meant blue for it used to have a lake with plenty of water. Qasr al-Azraq was a real castle built with black basalt. The biggest of the 3 desert castles on this tour, it contained an inner courtyard surrounded by rooms on 2 levels, and towers. All the 3 castles were very different from each other and from the crusader castles of kerak and shobak. I've enjoyed all the castles on this trip, but even the Hippo, a castle maniac, had had enough of castles on 1 trip. The driver bought me a very dark and thick Jordanian coffee and we drank it alongside the highway facing distant desert hills. He's from the desert. he told me he disliked the city but had to work, and he longed to be back to the desert. he drew me a map of Jordan on the sand to indicate where we were. "to the north is syria and lebanon. lebanon very small. and on the west is palestine." Hippo thought 'hee hee, yeah, palestine alright. I'll be there tonight'. "on the east, after all this (indicating the long arm of jordan), all this desert, is iraq. and here is saudi arabia.".

The flight to Israel was not full and the actual flight itself only took about 25 mins. Walking down the ramp at ben gurion, heart-felt memories resurfaced. I've been here before and walked on this ramp before. Israel, Israel! The drive to the hotel, zig zagging through the Tel Aviv highrises, showed that not much had changed in these years of my absence. The Renaissance hotel proved to be an excellent choice and decision. Although it's very expensive, it's right on the beach with direct beach access, and I was put on the 9th floor, facing south where I could see the tel aviv promenade all the way to Old Jaffa. At night the promenade was illuminated and so was the St peter's church on top of the jaffa hill. The view was spectacular, and smallLeo and I sat on our room balcony every night to admire and enjoy the view with a cup of tea. Below us, on the promenade and beach, people jogged, played volleyball, strolled on the beach and there were several restaurants right in front of the Mediterranean. I loved this hotel. The amenities were great, the service totally customer pleasing, location superb, with a supermarket, small grocery stores and a bakery just across the street, for water and snacks. Dont mind going back again.

Desert Castles photos:




Tel Aviv photos:

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday, October 11, 2014

lowest point on earth - again!

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:00 PM 0 comments
They said I looked 10 years younger already. The hagard Hippo liked that, so I put more mud on my face. it stung a little.

I remember the water being thicker, but on this side of the dead sea, it felt thinner but still very oily. for the second time I floated on the dead sea, this time on the jordanian side. I've covered my body with black mud, and put some on my face, hoping it would make my skin smoother and younger looking. The dead sea didnt smell bad here. I remember it smelling really suffocating on the Israel side. probably because it was July when I was there. We stopped to photograph Lot's wife statue, the pillar of salt. Lot must have had 2 wives and both of them must have looked back to sodom and both turned into pillars of salt, because there was one in the israel side and one here!

for our last supper, we again had traditional bedouin cuisine in a local joint. 14 enormous comfy chairs surrounded a huge rectangular table, with 3 big circular metal serving plates on it. again, it started with pita with lots of little dishes for dipping, hummus, albergines, white beans, cucumber and tomato salad. But this time, we had very tasty and even hot falafels and 2 deep fried meat dumplings. Very yummy. We had a choice of an individual entree. I chose the samsaf, a traditional jordanian/palestinian dish of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt, on a bed of rice. It wasnt as delicious as I've expected, but it was a satisfying meal. Too bad they didnt have any jordanian music or dancers.

Hippo floating on the Jordanian Dead Sea

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday, October 10, 2014

aqaba

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:00 PM 0 comments

Driving down the highway into Aqaba, we could see the city sprawled out in front of the red sea, with Eilat on the right, and Egypt further down. On the left we could see Saudi Arabia. The city, although bigger than Eilat, had no highrises and it felt small. I ventured into a public beach and being a local holiday, everyone was out swimming and enjoying the beach. I felt totally out of place there. The tourists went the hotel private beaches instead. On this side of the red sea, the water was littered with coke and other plastic bottles. I've seen the red sea before and being on this side, I wasnt impressed. Aqaba, the name conjured up Alladin and arabian nights, but the city itself wasnt much to sing about. however, I had my best lamb kabat here at a outdoor cafe, just across from our hotel. We could finally have seafood for dinner, and I've ordered a whole dorade. It was very bony but yummy.

Aqaba photos:


Thursday, October 09, 2014

Thursday, October 09, 2014

rain in wadi rum

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:00 PM 0 comments
today a Jeep 4X4 drive to the desert to wadi rum in a cloudy day. The negev on this side looked the same as in the Israel side with rocks the same shade of colors as on the other side. Our camp was only about a 10 min drive from the visitor center. My experience of desert camping went from luxury first class in wahiba sands, with individual tents with en-suite, to mid class small communal tents (and i slept outside under the stars) in the moroccan sahara, to totally basic camping in wadi rum. There's only 1 long tent where everyone slept in it. I didnt do the camel ride this time. Besides, the camels were heading towards the dark thundering clouds with flashes of lightning. I headed the other way, back to camp. And simply no other camel ride could top the one I took in the Moroccan Sahara. the sand dunes here at Rum werent very tall but the sand as fine as in Oman. Our bedouin dinner was a slow cook of chicken, lamb and veggies, in a pit covered with sand. the meat was so tender it felt off the bone. The sunset was hauntingly beautiful as all sunsets were in the desert. We built a soaring fire and sat around it. This time there was no drums playing, only songs and jokes telling. The moon was full so it was very bright at night. Later we walked to the top of a sand dune to appreciate the depths of the desert night. but our reverie was broken by very loud Spaniards who wandered in from another camp. We pulled our mattresses out to sleep under the open sky, but it started to rain, so I pulled mine back in to the tent and suffered the snoring all night. I sighed when I thought of my night under the stars in the Moroccan desert. Probably because wahiba sands was my first real sand desert experience, I still prefer it over the others. This time, in wadi rum, the magic was gone and I wasnt as awed as the other times.

Wadi Rum photos:

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Petra one more time

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:00 PM 0 comments
The walk through the Ciq during Petra by night last night was magical. In the morning, the rocky walls showed off their true colors of red, deep orange and brown. It should have been one of the 7 wonders of the world. Awe inspiring. No words can describe it. I'm seeing many tombs, the same as I've seen before. But this time, we went even deeper into Petra and saw the residential area and, with temples and houses along the cardo, and made the climb up to the Monastery. It was even more impressive than the Treasury. After the climb of 900+ steps, i turned to the right and what I saw took my breath away. The Monastery façade was enormous and very very tall. The view from surrounding Nabatean hills up there was spectacular. All ochre hills and rocks all around. This was my favorite part of Petra. The valley floor was impressive enough but the Monastery façade was really something else. I sat there with a cup of mint tea and just gazed on the Monastery façade. Afterwards I've walked the ciq again to exit Petra. 22 years ago, I rode on horseback through the ciq. now they didnt allow horses on the ciq. So including the walk in and out the night before for Petra by night, I've walked the ciq a total of 4 times. It didnt get any less impressive each time. We had our dinner at the red cave restaurant just 1 minute walk from the hotel Petra Palace in wadi musa. The owner was a famous person maniac and his restaurant was filled with photos of famous writers, singers and political figures, such as che, henminway. We had the traditional jordanian cuisine of pita bread with hummus and other dippings, a dish of chicken, lamb and veggies. very tasty! The mint lemonade in jordan is out of this world! I had it every day.

the following day Moe took us for a trek that gradually went up to the high place of sacrifice, a different way to get into Petra. We scrambled among boulders and ended up on top of the Treasury where we could see the ciq from the top. It was a fantastic hike and a new view of the rose city. We descended back to the valley floor by the normal route, the same stairs that went up to the high place of sacrifice. I didnt much feel like walking the 1K Ciq again, so Jodi and I took the chariot. It flew down the Ciq in thunderbolt speed, and we felt every rock bump and jolt in our bodies. I've never felt so sore from any rides in my life. After 2 days of climbing, and a terrifying and uncomfortable chariot ride, I've decided on a Turkish bath, the only one in Jordan that have men and women separated. The 15 minutes steam bath almost knocked me out. The scrub was not hard enough and the massage minimum. Not the best Turkish bath but I felt clean and invigorated afterwards. As if the red rock tombs werent quite enough, I also did Little Petra. Not much there except the façade of a major tomb still had the Nabateans columns totally intact. The entrance into it was a miniature 200m long ciq. perhaps the best part of it was the quietness. Unlike Petra which was littered with tourists, little petra was tranquil and peaceful. One could really take the time and wander around without other people in your way. We went inside one water cistern and it was big and deep and filled with dirty water. It was dark and menacing. I got really scared inside it. But a memorable travel moment sitting in the terrace in front of my hotel room, with the almost full moon overhead, illuminating the red orange hills. it was quiet, bright and orange hills in front of me.

Petra photos:


Monday, October 06, 2014

Monday, October 06, 2014

day of castles and petra by night

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:00 PM 0 comments
I dont remember anything of Kerak from my first trip to Jordan. Not much to see here because it's either total ruins or renovated. We drove through below sea level on the mujeb canyon and dam. The scenery was quite spectacular. Shobak followed Kerak as the second crusader castle of the day. I specifically chose this Lawrence of Arabia's trip because it covered both castles. Shobak was even in a sadder shape. But it contained tunnels and we went inside one. It's a bit more interesting than Kerak, as it's in the middle of the desert with only a small town near it, while Kerak was in the middle of a large town, the castle surrounded by houses and highways.

for lunch, Moe provided us with a jordanian hotdog, followed by several veggie pies, one in particular was very yummy and topped with thyme. another one with tomatoes, jordanian pizza? A small cucumber, a banana and an apple each.


22 years ago, I remember the jordanian kings highway, long, smooth, traffic free. We saw bedouin tents with camels along the way. We've made a stop at a large tent that had a few camels nearby and a rollsroyce parked next to the tent. We were offered watermelon and small glasses of hot sweet tea. This time, the Kings highway was busy with cars and buildings along it. However, once we've entered the Negev desert, crowded noisy civilization dissipated , and the silence of the desert took over. The below sea level Mujeb valley with the lovely dam was tranquil and very picturesque. We stopped at a vistapoint that offered grand views of the valley, the canyon and the dam. The lake, created by the dam, was very blue and provided a brilliant contrast to the surrounding orange and brown arid land. Very lovely place.

We ended the day in Petra, in a hotel that was 700m to the entrance to the rose city. 4 of us did Petra by Night. It's also one of the highlight of the trip, and I even brought the Daiso flashlight that shined in different colors, just for this. We walked through the ciq under an almost full moon high above the sheer vertical rocky walls. 500 candles lined our way. It was like almost in a dream as we navigated in the narrow path between tall dark rocky walls, and made many stops to photograph the moon in the rocky walls openings. The walk ended in front of the Treasury, with about a 100 candle lanterns laid on the floor in front of it. We got there late and all the carpeted seats were taken, so we settled on the dirt floor in front of the Treasury, right next to the musician. Sitting with lanterns all around and with the imposing Treasury in front of us, only illuminated by the candles and by the moon, was surreal. Fiona's backpack knocked one of the lanterns out but luckily she didnt catch on fire, so we've made a joke about her being baptized by fire in Petra. They played jordanian rebab (bowed string instrument) and flute to entertain us. It was a magical way to see petra.

Crusader Castles photos:



Mujeb photos:




Petra by Night photos:

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Jordan one more time

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:00 PM 0 comments
22 years ago I went to Israel for 2 weeks and crossed the border to Jordan for 2 days. This time I did the reversed, Jordan in a week and flew direct to Tel Aviv for a 3 days stay in Israel. I remember the visa worries for the stans trip but this trip was filled with even more anxieties. First the rockets shooting in Israel. Then the Air France pilot strike which kept me checking the flight status online every day. I even researched alternative flights in case the Air France flights were still cancelled. Fortunately to my ultimate relief, the rockets ended and the strike was called off 3 days before my departure.

To my delight, I flew in an Air France double-decker. The plane was huge! I was on the last row on the upper deck. The window seat had a drawer below the window to store things. Very happy to have that extra space. the 3 hrs layover at Charles de Gaulle was pretty much the same as previous times. Same terminal. The flight from CDG to Amman took a longer than normal route to avoid the air strikes in syria. The Airbus 380 went south, cut through the alps which at 35000 ft above on a somewhat cloudy day, still looked spectacular. Between the cotton white clouds and nestled among the hills, i spotted tiny swiss hamlets that reminded me of lauterbrunnen. the sunset just below the adriatic, the dolomites when we cut through venice heading towards athens was sparkling. it was completely dark by the time we went over cairo, past the red sea towards aqaba. saw long narrow lines of lights and multiple bright cities, the night line was probably the jordanian Kings highway.


Arrived in Amman around 9PM and the ride from Queen Alia to the Toledo hotel was pleasant in the evening lights. The evening was brilliant. On the way I've spotted Ikea, Safeway, and the usual McDonalds, Starbuck, KFC and Pizza Hut. English everywhere, even on street signs. It seemed every other car was a mercedes. A single woman driving alone, head uncovered. What liberation! I love rides like this. always enjoyed immensely the first ride from the airport to the hotel in a strange city, taking in the first sights of the new city. And at night, it had a mysterious soothing effect. Amman! I remember the night 22 years ago, the street filled with jewelry shops, we bought roasted water chestnuts from a street stall. The Marriotts had gorgeous rooms and wonderful buffets. This time a local hotel overlooking the King Abbulah I blue domed mosque. King abdullah II picture on the hotel wall. no arrow pointing to Mecca inside the room. 5AM prayers followed by catholic church bell ringing. Jordan!

22 years ago I missed Jerash and I've waited this long to visit the archaeological site. Jerash was on a hill and the drive up in the early morning was refreshing and the air was cool and crisp. The hadrian arch, the south entrance to jerash, was already impressive. the whole complex was not big but the oval forum, surrounded by an intact colonnade, was beautiful, and I could imagine what it was like in the days of Jerash where inhabitants walked daily through this impressive oval plaza. I walked on the cobblestones of the 800m long cardo maximus lined with corinthian columns, with remains of shops and vendors on both sides, thinking how I finally made it here and was very very content. The south amphitheater adjacent to the Zeus temple, could sit 1500. The Artemis temple still had several intact corinthian columns, and they looked reddish and pink in the early morning sun. The north theater was even bigger and could sit up to 3000. The cathedral floor had mosaic depicting animals. The Hippodrome, the Nymphaeum, the baths, the agora, all were still intact. Truly an awesome archaeological site, and the Hippo was very happy to finally made it here.

For the second time the Hippo gazed upon the Promised Land on Mtn Nebo. I imagined Moses standing there looking at the land flowing with milk and honey. We could just barely make out Jerecho and Qunram in the hazy afternoon, both places I've been before. The dead sea was very visible in the hazy late morning. Jerusalem, bethlehem and hebron remained hidden from sight. the jordan river on this side was non existing. parts of the bizantine mosaic floor from the old baptistry was still there. a memorial to John Paul II's visit was a column that looked like the profile of an old man - moses? Moses only gazed upon the promised land, he wasnt allowed into it. and the Hippo was there once and about enter it again.

In the afternoon we visited St George (with a painting of St george slaying the dragon of course) in Madaba, and at first I didnt pay much attention to the mosaic on the floor (she's not much for mosaics) but later after Moe explained the significance of the mosaic map, I understood and became interested, and even bought a map. The mosaic map depicted the river jordan and the holy land. cities of major significance, such as Jerusalem and Jercho, were shown bigger on the map, the more significant the location, the bigger it was on the map. Interesting!

For dinner Moe took us to a local joint and we had pita with humus and various small dishes for dipping, albergines, white bean, cucumber and tomato salad. Followed by the local cake which was baked fresh and prepared in front of us. All this for just $5USD. Very satisfying meal and what an experience to sit at small tables laid out on an alley, surrounded by local jordanians. Excellent way to start a trip.

Jordan photos:


 

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